Antonio Conte’s quest to win the Double in his first season as Chelsea manager moved one significant step closer to fruition with this local derby semi-final success, and afterwards he explained part of his strategy as the season approaches its climax.
Our manager surprised many by starting with both Diego Costa and Eden Hazard on the bench and without them, his team took the lead twice through Willian but Tottenham each time drew level. On the hour the two big-name players were reintroduced, followed no long after by Cesc Fabregas whose corner led to Hazard’s thrilling goal to make it 3-2. Nemanja Matic applied the coup de grace with a resounding thump of the ball, and it is Chelsea who will return to Wembley for the domestic season’s showpiece finale.
‘To reach in my first season the final of this competition is a great achievement but not only for me, above all for my players and for the club and for the staff and the fans,’ Conte said before leaving Wembley to concentrate on the league campaign once more.
‘We deserved this after a very tough game against a really strong team. To see this type of game, I think England must be proud. To have this type of football, with this level of intensity from the players, it is great sport. For this semi-final I saw two teams very strong and a really good game, not only for Chelsea but also Tottenham.’
Conte called the week that began with this challenge against the side also chasing us hard in the Premier League as ‘crucial’, with a scheduling of fixtures he finds hard to understand but says must be accepted. This was behind his team decisions today.
‘For sure when you arrive in this part of the season, and you know you have to play three tough games and one is a semi-final and a top game, and a top priority, but you know you have to play on Tuesday after only two and a half days a game very important for us and for the league, you have to take strong decisions.
‘We play a Southampton team who rest for 10 days and Tottenham have one more day to rest and they play Crystal Palace who have to play tomorrow. You have to take responsibility for your decisions and it is a great responsibility, it is not easy to start the game without two really important players.’
The Italian highlighted his determination to keep all the squad properly involved in everything that goes on in training as key to being able to make his changed team selections work.
‘I am pleased because Michy started this really important game, and it is very important for him and for his confidence, and the same for Ake who is a young player from our Academy and we must be proud to see his commitment and the level that he played in this game as it is not easy, but I trust them and I truat every single player, and today showed this.
‘I am also pleased for Willian because he showed to be in good form and for him this season was not easy for many reasons.
‘Now it is important to refocus because we have only two and a half days to rest and recover and prepare very well because against Southampton we have a tough game, and we must know Tottenham will fight to the end to win the title.’