Double dream step closer as Conte’s gamble pays

There is no doubt Mauricio Pochettino has assembled a good team at Tottenham, the strongest challengers to the best in the country this season.

Double dream step closer as Conte’s gamble pays

Chelsea 4 Willian 5, 43 pen; Hazard 75, Matic 80

Tottenham 2 Kane 18, Alli 52

But pretenders to the trophies is all they will remain for another season after Antonio Conte showed his managerial counterpart a difference in class at Wembley.

Sure, it helped Conte had better players at his disposal and the margins were fine as Tottenham were the better team for large periods of the game, but the best side and tactics won a thrilling match.

And with a place in the FA Cup final secured it now seems inevitable Chelsea will deny Tottenham the Premier League title too as Conte seeks to emulate his fellow Italian, Carlo Ancelotti, and win the Double in his first season as manager at Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham were simply magnificent after recovering from going behind to Willian’s well taken free-kick after only five minutes to level through a deft Harry Kane header.

They continued to dominate before and after Willian’s penalty, following a rash foul on Victor Moses by Heung-Min Son, when Dele Alli converted a sublime Christian Eriksen pass shortly after half-time.

But for all their possession – they had 63% of the ball – Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois hardly broke into a sweat with only four shots recorded on target against his goal.

And that is exactly how Conte planned it. He admitted afterwards he had taken a huge, yet calculated gamble, by leaving three of his best players Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas on the substitutes’ bench.

With tomorrow night’s crucial Premier League visit of Southampton also in mind, the Chelsea manager wanted to unleash all his firepower when Tottenham thought they had the game won and still have strength in reserve for a key week in killing off the title race too.

Hazard and Costa came on with half an hour to go and Fabregas followed just over 10 minutes later. The momentum had already switched away from Tottenham with the impact of the first two replacements, but the Spaniard added a telling bit of class they had been lacking in midfield.With the expected jeers of abuse from Tottenham supporters still ringing around the stadium at his arrival, the former Arsenal captain’s first touch was to deliver Chelsea’s first corner towards Hazard, who shot his side in front.

Fabregas and the dazzling Belgian then combined superbly to work the ball to Nemanja Matic to settle the tie with an 80th-minute thunderbolt of a strike. That Pochettino could only bolster his options with subs Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Kyle Walker was a clear illustration of the gap between these clubs.

In goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, central defender Toby Alderweireld, midfielders Mousa Dembele, Alli and Eriksen with Kane to spearhead the attack, the Argentine coach has an impressive line-up. But he does not have the same resources, in finance and personnel, to get his side over the line and win trophies.

That could change, of course, but with Manchester City and United each expected to spend over £200m again on new players this summer, it will be hard to keep up and therefore retain the talented players they currently have. Another 90 minutes of football like this when the final is staged next month and Chelsea, however, will end the season a popular side to watch for fans and neutrals alike. Afterwards, a naturally delighted Fabregas, explained some of the secrets behind their tactics and what it would mean to him and the club if they could go on and win the Double for a second time in the club’s recent successful history.

He said: “If we can achieve the Double it is something special and very difficult to do, especially in England. It can be done in Spain, Germany and Italy, but in England! First of all you have to work hard in every single match and secondly you need a bit of luck, but definitely we will need to be consistent through to the last game of the season.”

He raised an eyebrow, smiled and admitted he was as surprised as anyone when Conte named so many world class players as substitutes.

But he claimed there had been a unique sense of togetherness in the dug-out throughout and he added: “You never want to accept [being left out] whoever you are, but it worked very well and the substitutes changed the game when they came on.

“It is fantastic for us to be able to do that. It means the whole squad is ready to go when called upon.

“We always work in a certain way and I can’t say we changed a lot in the build-up, but we didn’t do as much physical work and were more tactical.

“We know they are a good side and maybe they would surprise us with a few things, so we had to be ready for anything they did.”

CHELSEA:

Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, David Luiz 8, Ake 7; Moses 6, Kante 7, Matic 7, Alonso 6; Willian 8 (Hazard 60, 8), Batshuayi 5 (Costa 60, 6), Pedro 6 (Fabregas 73, 7).

TOTTENHAM:

Lloris 5; Trippier 6, Dier 5, Alderweireld 5, Vertonghen 5; Wanyama 6 (N’Koudou 80), Dembele 8, Son 5 (Walker 68, 5), Eriksen 8, Alli 8; Kane 8.

Referee:

Martin Atkinson.

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