A first-half penalty conceded leaves the Blues in arrears at the halfway stage of this London derby last-four game in the Carabao Cup, but there is clearly much to play for in just over a fortnight’s time at Stamford Bridge, following a balanced encounter at Wembley.
Tottenham, especially after they had gone ahead midway through the first period with a spot-kick both won and converted by Harry Kane, largely played a containing game, knowing they could cause us problems on the break, but there were occasions when we could have equalised, most notably when Callum Hudson-Odoi, named in the starting line-up, had a shot deflected and then saved onto the inside of the post.
N’Golo Kante skimmed the woodwork too and both goalkeepers made good saves, but by and large this was a typical first game in a two-legged semi, with neither side gambling extensively and both keeping the tie alive. It was certainly a far more worthy showing by Maurizio Sarri’s men than the 3-1 league defeat here which had disappointed him so greatly.
Hudson-Odoi, Sarri explained before kick-off, was selected as he had played very well in the previous game, the 2-0 win over Forest in the other domestic cup when he created both goals. The boss went on to explain that he also did not want to risk having too many players in the 11 who may have needed substituting – referring to the likes of Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Willian who were just back from injury.
Willian did start the game, and with Alvaro Morata missing due to a minor hamstring problem picked up in training earlier in the day, Eden Hazard was centrally positioned in the attack.
Another young player starting was Andreas Christensen, who was Toni Rudiger’s partner in central defence tonight with David Luiz on the bench. The young Dane would have our best second-half chance to score.
A Wembley Stadium, which is only filled in the lower two of the three tiers for Spurs games these days, readied itself for the latest chapter in what has been a colourful cup-tie history between these two London rivals.
Chelsea launched the first attack, which was not far away from playing Hudson-Odoi through, but then a quick ball forward gave Christensen some defending to do. Both he and Heung-Min Son fell. Spurs wanted a free-kick. It was not one but it was a warning as to the type of threat the Blues backline would face throughout the game.
Kepa made a fairly comfortable save from a Kane overhead kick before five minutes were up, and not long after they were, Hudson-Odoi warmed the hands of Paulo Gazzaniga who was in the Spurs goal rather than Hugo Lloris.
Chelsea began to gain an upper hand. It was certainly a better start by the Blues than in the league game here, and we were in blue today unlike the yellow stipulated by the Premier League for that November contest.
Hazard curled a crisp shot into the hands of the keeper on 20 minutes but three minutes later came the turning point. It seemed too easy for Spurs to send Kane away with a straight ball from the back over the top. The England captain took it past Kepa who collided with him. Initially referee Michael Oliver appear to rule no penalty due to an offside decision but both that and the collision were subsequently checked by VAR and the spot-kick was awarded, and duly converted by Kane. Kepa had been booked for the foul.
Also cautioned soon after was Harry Winks for a foul on Hazard. There would be three Spurs names in the book by the end to Chelsea's one.
How would Chelsea respond to the set-back of a goal conceded? It has been one of our major stumblings this season.
Though Spurs looked dangerous on the counter, we continued to spend more of the time in our opponents half and with five minutes to go before the break, Kante hit the outside of the post with a shot from an Alonso cross. It had been one of our best moves.
Then, with added time for the VAR stoppage being played, we hit the woodwork again but this time the inside of the upright. Hudson-Odoi, from wide out on the right (where he finished the Forest game and started this one), sent the ball in. It took a big deflection off Danny Rose and for a fraction of a second it looked on its way to the net. Gazzaniga finger-tipped the ball onto the woodwork and Spurs cleared. That was half-time.
Chelsea probed at the start of the second period, but it was Kane, from 20 yards out, who drew a diving save out of Kepa.
From a similar distance, Hazard drove one hard but straight at the keeper before Kante did extend him with a shot towards the bottom corner.
From a 57th-minute corner, Chelsea missed a very good chance to score. Flicked on by Barkley, it fell for Christensen beyond the far post to run onto it but his first-time shot was wide.
That had been a good spell for the Blues, but then we became worryingly ragged in defence for a time before a final 10 minutes of seeking a leveller. In truth, no clear opportunities in that closing stage were created, although Hazard did test Gazzaniga at the foot of his near post.
The second leg at the Bridge is on Thursday 24 January. There is no ‘away goals rule’ in this season’s Carabao Cup.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley (Kovacic 75), Hudson-Odoi (Giroud 79), Hazard, Willian (Pedro 63).
Unused subs Caballero, David Luiz, Zappacosta, Ampadu.
Booked Kepa 25
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Rose; Sissoko, Winks (Skipp 88), Alli, Eriksen (Llorente 90+1), Son (Lamela 79), Kane (c).
Unused subs Lloris, Walker-Peters, Foyth, Davies.
Scorer Kane 27
Booked Winks 29, Sanchez 60, Lamela 83.
Referee Michael Oliver