Chelsea are going to Wembley after finishing the job with a professional 1-0 win at Tottenham on the night, completing a 3-0 aggregate victory over our London rivals in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
The Blues went into the game knowing what they needed to do to reach a third final since Thomas Tuchel took over as head coach a year ago, having triumphed 2-0 in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Once again Tuchel won the tactical battle against opposite number Antonio Conte, returning to the 4-4-2 formation which worked so well against Spurs previously, before reverting to 3-4-3 when we needed to steady the ship in the closing stages in north London.
We came out strongly against Spurs again this time around, taking a direct approach as Romelu Lukaku powered onto the end of an Antonio Rudiger long pass to draw a good early save from Tottenham goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini. However, we had the Italian picking the ball out of his net inside 20 minutes, when Rudiger bravely got his head to a Mason Mount corner as the keeper tried to punch, sending the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.
There was plenty of drama during the rest of the game, mostly due to VAR having to repeatedly overrule referee Andre Marriner in Chelsea’s favour. That happened on no less than three occasions, preventing penalties awarded against Rudiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga, the latter inexplicably in one of the strangest refereeing decisions you’re likely to see this season, as well as disallowing a Harry Kane goal for offside.
In truth, though, despite those brief moments when it looked like the officials might hand Spurs a way back into the game on the night, our healthy lead overall never looked in any danger once Rudiger extended it to three goals, as we comfortably navigated our way through this semi-final without too much trouble.
Thomas Tuchel made four changes from the first leg of this Carabao Cup semi-final, but retained the 4-4-2 shape which worked so well against Tottenham last time.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was back in goal after Marcus Bettinelli was between the posts for the weekend's FA Cup third-round win. In front of him it was a back four, with Andreas Christensen retaining his place from the FA Cup, alongside Antonio Rudiger in the middle, with Malang Sarr taking Marcos Alonso's spot at left-back and captain Cesar Azpilicueta on the right.
Mateo Kovacic was introduced from the start in midfield with Jorginho, in place of Saul Niguez, while Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced Hakim Ziyech on the left wing. After scoring at the weekend, Timo Werner replaced his compatriot Kai Havertz in a front two with Romelu Lukaku.
This second leg began pretty much the same way the first had finished, as Chelsea enjoyed plenty of the ball but in comfortable areas for our opponents to defend, not providing many problems for Tottenham in the opening minutes.
When the first attempt arrived, it was for the home team, as Harry Kane went for goal from a free-kick awarded softly against Andreas Christensen on the edge of our box, but he couldn’t beat the wall.
Our own first shot came via Timo Werner, when an Antonio Rudiger long ball was headed into his path just outside the area. With the ball bouncing he spotted goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini off his line and attempted to lift a lob over him, but he got too much on it and the ball dropped beyond the crossbar onto the roof of the net.
It was the Blues who produced the first real bit of threat for either of the goalkeepers, again via a long pass from Rudiger, this time into the path of Romelu Lukaku’s run. The Belgian did brilliantly to bring it down on his chest while holding off a challenge and drove a low shot towards goal, but Gollini saved well with his feet.
That direct route in behind the Spurs defence was clearly one that had been identified by Tuchel and his team as a potentially fruitful one, as Christensen then tried to find Mason Mount with a very similar pass shortly afterwards, but this time there was too much on it and Gollini was quick off his line to collect.
Crucial first goal
With Chelsea carrying a two-goal lead over from the first leg, the opening goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was always going to be massive for the tie as a whole, explaining the joyful celebrations from those in Blue when it went our way.
Just inside the first 20 minutes, Werner cut inside onto his right and saw his low shot blocked behind for a corner. That was only a temporary reprieve for Spurs though. Mount swung in the set-piece from the left and when Gollini came rushing out and failed to punch, Rudiger was right behind him to provide a brave header that went in off the underside of the crossbar.
It was advantage Chelsea again, now having a 3-0 aggregate lead to defend in order to reach the final, and that Rudiger strike seemed to knock the fight out of Tottenham, at least temporarily. More half chances followed, Callum Hudson-Odoi coming closest with a low effort after cutting in onto this right foot, Gollini getting down quickly to paw it away.
Tottenham push back
We weren’t having things all our own way, though, as shown when Spurs spurned a series of chances in quick succession. First Christensen stood strong to block Kane’s shot on the turn eight yards out. His clearance only reached his international team-mate Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on the edge of the box, but thankfully his shot was deflected over.
The home team went even closer from the resulting corner, as Davinson Sanchez headed it on towards the back post, but Kane couldn’t quite reach it with his slide for what would have been a near certain goal.
It briefly looked like Tottenham would have an even better chance to score, when Hojbjerg went down theatrically under a sliding challenge by Rudiger and referee Andre Marriner pointed to the penalty spot. However, Rudiger was adamant any contact occurred outside of the area and, after a lengthy VAR check, the officials agreed, awarding just a free-kick. Fittingly it was the German defender himself who leapt high in the wall to head Giovani Lo Celso’s effort from the set-piece over the bar.
When the second half began, Chelsea seemed to have found our composure again, starting with a prolonged spell of comfortable possession, which nearly resulted in us extending our advantage further.
After Lukaku had threatened early in the left channel, Hudson-Odoi took over with a run of his own, creating a yard of space beyond his marker to chip a delicate and dangerous cross towards the far post, where Tottenham were grateful to head behind for a corner. However, there was nearly a very familiar goal as Rudiger met the set-piece strongly, but this time his header went just over.
Tottenham’s best hope of clawing their way back into the tie during the opening stages of the second half came through a bizarre piece of refereeing. It was a strong run by Kane as he jinked his way clear just inside our half, allowing him to charge into space towards goal and slide a pass through to Lucas Moura.
Kepa came off his line quickly and made himself big to dispossess Moura with what looked like an excellent piece of goalkeeping. There was disbelief on the Spaniard's face when the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot, but unsurprisingly VAR quickly identified that Kepa had clearly won the ball and overturned a Spurs penalty for the second time in the game.
However, even if it didn’t result in a penalty, that inexplicable refereeing decision and the pause it caused allowed Tottenham to catch their breath and swung the game’s momentum in the home side’s favour, as shown when Kepa was needed again to produce a good save and keep out an Emerson Royal header.
It was further underlined when Spurs had the ball in the back of our net shortly afterwards, after Jorginho had been dispossessed in a dangerous area, allowing Kane to receive the ball wide and beyond the goalkeeper and slot into the bottom corner. Once again the home fans were silenced by VAR, though, as replays showed Kepa had stepped up cleverly to play Kane offside, as only Sarr on the line was between him and the goal.
Seeing the game out
Tuchel clearly wasn’t happy with what he was seeing on the pitch, opting for an almost immediate change of shape and personnel. Thiago Silva, Marcos Alonso and Hakim Ziyech all came on as we reverted to a back three, with Alonso and Azpilicueta as wing-backs for the last 20 minutes of the game. That allowed us to regroup and start playing by instinct again, just as Tottenham seemed to be gaining the upper hand, especially when the fresh legs of N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were added in midfield.
We then took control back again, and what followed was as professional an ending to a match as you could hope for. The Blues kept possession where possible and Tottenham at arm’s length throughout the closing stages of the tie, comfortable in our three-goal lead, despite a long break in play with a few minutes left due to a medical incident in the crowd behind Kepa’s goal.
Our place in the final never really seemed in doubt in north London, though. We will now end a Carabao Cup campaign we have played exclusively in the captial at Wembley against either Liverpool or Arsenal, who play the first leg of their semi at Anfield tomorrow night.
The Premier League returns after a brief break for the domestic cups, as we face two away trips in quick succession. First up is a big one at leaders Manchester City on Saturday, before we travel to the South Coast to take on Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday evening.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen (Thiago Silva 66), Rudiger, Sarr; Mount (Ziyech 66), Jorginho (Loftus-Cheek 82), Kovacic (Kante 77), Hudson-Odoi; Lukaku, Werner (Alonso 66)
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Saul, Havertz, Pulisic
Scorer: Rudiger 18
Tottenham (3-4-3): Gollini; Tanganga, Sanchez, Davies; Emerson Royal, Winks (Skipp 81), Hojbjerg, Doherty (Sessegnon 65); Lo Celso (Gil 71), Kane (c), Moura
Unused subs: Lloris, Paskotsi, Rodon, White, Alli, Scarlett
Referee: Andre Marriner