Chelsea booked our place in this season’s Carabao Cup final with a 1-0 win away at Tottenham Hotspur, as Thomas Tuchel got the better of his opposite number for the second week in a row, throwing up some striking statistics.
It was Antonio Rudiger’s first-half header from a Mason Mount corner that decided the game on the night, although things were far more comfortable on aggregate thanks to our 2-0 victory in the first leg at Stamford Bridge last week.
It may not have been the simplest of wins for the Blues, especially with VAR having to repeatedly step in and overrule referee Andre Marriner, when he twice incorrectly awarded Tottenham penalties and initially allowed an offside Harry Kane goal to stand, but we did enough to come out on top in a tight match.
Chelsea haven’t lost a two-legged knock-out tie after winning the first game since 2007 and in truth that never looked like changing in north London, even if we didn’t have things all our own way in the second game. Despite having to navigate some tricky moments, we maintained our unbeaten record at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with four wins and one draw there since it opened in 2019, to become the first team ever to reach at least one of the FA Cup or League Cup final in six consecutive seasons.
Tuchel does it again
Thomas Tuchel clearly knows what it takes to win a London derby against Spurs, as we have now defeated them three times this season, all without conceding a single goal. We will have a chance to extend that when we face them again in the Premier League later this month.
Incredibly, the German also has a 100 per cent record in semi-finals throughout his managerial career, having progressed to the final on all nine occasions he has reached the last four of a domestic or European cup competition - two DFB Pokal finals with Borussia Dortmund; one Champions League, two Coupe de France and one Coupe de la Ligue finals with Paris Saint-Germain; one Champions League, one FA Cup and one League Cup final with Chelsea.
This latest semi-final triumph owed plenty to Tuchel’s tactical nous. Having switched to a back four in the first leg of this tie, as injuries and Covid restricted his defensive options, but then used our more familiar 3-4-3 for the weekend’s FA Cup win over Chesterfield, he kept Spurs boss Antonio Conte guessing on our tactics right up until the last moment.
Even when the team sheet was revealed, it wasn’t clear that we would again utilise the 4-4-2 that was so successful in the first leg until the players kicked off at Tottenham. Then, just as our opponents were gaining a foothold in the second half, after adjusting their shape to closer match ours, Tuchel made changes of his own to revert to a back three and nullify much of Spurs’ threat, allowing us to see out the last 20 minutes relatively peacefully.
There were subtle differences to how we used the 4-4-2 this time around, though, as you would expect from the very different situation of going into the match with a two-goal lead to defend, but again it was on our left flank that it was most obvious.
Our left-back in north London was Malang Sarr, who as a natural centre-back you would expect to play that position more conservatively than Marcos Alonso had in the first leg. You would be mistaken.
However, rather than creating a constant overload on Spurs’ defence as we did at the Bridge, on this occasion he was working in tandem with the winger ahead of him, Callum Hudson-Odoi, who would often allow Sarr to run beyond and either come inside or slot in behind to cover defensively against the counter-attack.
That resulted in some interesting statistics. Few would have expected Hudson-Odoi to match Rudiger and Romelu Lukaku for the most aerial duels won by a Chelsea player (two each), while only Andreas Christensen (four) made more clearances than his two for the Blues. The young winger was still a threat on the attack, too, as shown by his game-high of two key passes, level with Lukaku and Mason Mount.
Sarr didn’t leave all the defending to his team-mate, though. Far from it, as the Frenchman was one of four Chelsea players to record a high of three interceptions – along with Rudiger, Jorginho and Thiago Silva, the latter despite only playing the last 25 minutes – in addition to no-one having more than his 109 touches on the ball, again joint with Rudiger.
Rudiger seemed to be involved in absolutely everything at Tottenham. In addition to his goal and being one of those receiving a partial pardon from VAR after the referee gave a penalty against him for a foul on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg outside the box, the centre-back further demonstrated the threat he is becoming at set-pieces by going close with a second header, meaning only Lukaku (three) had more than his two shots for Chelsea.
It was the second time he has netted at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season, having also completed the scoring in our 3-0 Premier League victory there in September, taking his tally for 2021/22 to three. That equals his best season for the Blues in front of goal, when he also got three in his debut campaign in west London, 2017/18.
As previously mentioned, it was far more than just his goal threat that caught the eye in this semi-final, though, with his 109 touches of the ball the highest of anyone. To underline how influential he was, no Spurs player managed much more than half those touches, with Harry Winks their highest on 59.
He was as solid at the back as ever, with his three interceptions and two aerial duels won also joint highest, but he played a key part in our early tactics too. The 97 passes Rudiger made were more than any other player on the pitch and he was often the one trying to find Lukaku with a direct pass in the first half, as we looked to catch Tottenham out pushing forward in search of the goal they badly needed to get back into the tie.
That also explains why so many of Lukaku’s passes, including his joint-highest of two key passes, were predominantly short distance and backwards, as we found him early, relying on him to hold on to possession while isolated until support arrived for him to lay the ball off and turn into the box. That faith proved well placed as the Belgian striker only failed to find a team-mate with two of his passes all night.