Everyone expected today’s FA Cup semifinal between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to be an absolute stormer. The match, featuring the top two teams in the Premier League, promised attacking football, solid defenses, and goals a-plenty. It certainly delivered, but unfortunately at the expense of Tottenham’s FA Cup dreams. Chelsea got a spectacular goal from Nemaja Vidic late in the game to complement a brace from Willian and one from Eden Hazard as they defeated Spurs 4-2 to advance to the FA Cup finals.
Tottenham started with a lineup that can only be described as... weird. As expected, they switched to a three-at-the-back formation, with Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, and Eric Dier anchoring the defense. The weird part was that Mauricio Pochettino opted to rest both Kyle Walker and Ben Davies, opting instead to play Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-Min as attacking wingbacks. Victor Wanyama returned to the starting 11 beside Mousa Dembele in the midfield; Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were behind Harry Kane.
A minute’s applause for Ugo Ehiogu preceded kick-off, and both Spurs and Chelsea wore black armbands in memorial to the former England international defender and Tottenham’s U23 coach.
Maybe it was the loss of Ehiogu yesterday, or maybe it was the importance of the match, but Spurs started the first half looking wound as tight as a clock and playing nervously. Chelsea came out and pressed Spurs high up the pitch from the opening kick
It didn’t take long for Chelsea’s strategy to pay dividends. Toby Alderweireld brought down a streaking Pedro just outside the box on a Chelsea counterattack and received a yellow for his efforts. Willian then stepped up and fired a swerving free kick past Hugo Lloris into the left corner, and the Blues led 1-0 after just four minutes.
Spurs came roaring back and settled back into the flow of the match. In the 18th minute, Spurs equalized in spectacular fashion. Off of a corner, Christian Eriksen fired a lofted ball into the box. Harry Kane, diving low and facing the ball, knocked the cross off the back of his head into the bottom left corner past Courtois and into the net.
It was all even, and both teams played like it for much of the first half, with Spurs perhaps having the majority of the chances. But three minutes from time, Son Heung-Min made a critical error, going to ground too early in the box. Victor Moses went down, drew the penalty, and Willian converted the spot kick to put Chelsea up 2-1.
A minute later, Hugo had a scary moment when he appeared to get away with handling the ball outside his area after his momentum carried the ball across the line. Martin Atkinson didn’t see the infraction, which would’ve resulted in a yellow for Hugo and a dangerous free kick for Chelsea.
The first half ended with Chelsea leading 2-1.
The second half kicked off with no changes from either side, but it was Spurs who got the first goal after the break. In the 54th minute, Christian Eriksen fired a gorgeous long ball into the box. Dele timed his run perfectly and was at the perfect spot ton one-touch the ball past Courtois. Spurs drew level in the most spectacular of ways.
At the 2⁄3 mark, Antonio Conte pulled out the big guns, bringing in Diego Costa and Eden Hazard for Michy Batshuayi and Willian. Spurs countered by bringing in Kyle Walker for Son Heung-Min, and shifting Trippier to the left wing.
Spurs spent much of the second half with the ball, trying to pick the lock of Chelsea’s defense. The Blues, by contrast, tried to hit back on the counterattack through Hazard and Costa.
Ironically, Chelsea got their go-ahead goal on their first corner of the game. Hazard somehow threaded a shot through a forest of legs from the top of the box and past Lloris to give Chelsea their third lead of the game, 3-2.
Looking for a little pace in the last ten minutes of the match, Pochettino rolled the dice, bringing on Georges-Kevin N’Koudou for Victor Wanyama.
But it was Nemanja Matic who put the dagger in Spurs’ dreams of an FA Cup title, after he put an unstoppable shot off the top crossbar into the net. Hugo had no chance, and Spurs trailed 4-2.
The goal took the wind out of Spurs’ sails, but they continued to try and find a way back. Harry Kane had a free kick that very nearly trickled over the line to halve the deficit at the death, but in the end it wouldn’t have mattered much. Despite accounting themselves very well at Wembley today, the match eventually ended with Spurs on the wrong end of the scoreline. Final score, 4-2.
- Martin Atkinson let both sides play for the most part, which made for a very tetchy game and meant players like Marcos Alonso and David Luiz got away with murder.
- Like, it’s easy to get mad at Son for that dumb tackle that drew the penalty, but let’s also remember that Sonny isn’t a wing back. That’s the kind of dumb thing that can happen when you ask a player who normally doesn’t defend to make defensive plays around the box.
- I really can’t figure out why we didn’t just start Davies and Walker from the very beginning. Very curious decision making from Pochettino in this lineup.
- Both of Chelsea’s first half goals came off of defensive miscues by Spurs, which is super frustrating.
- Tottenham’s goals were fantastic — Kane’s header and Dele’s run — but you have to tip your hat to Matic, who’s late goal was spectacular.
- Despite the scoreline, Spurs played very, very well today. Mousa Dembele was immense in midfield, and were really pushing for a go-ahead goal before Hazard ruined everything.
- This game made me sad, but it’s hard to say that Chelsea didn’t deserve the result. The result snaps Spurs’ 10 game winning streak in all competitions.
- It hurts, but this was one hell of a game, and there are a lot of positives to take from this match. There’s still the league to think about. Onwards to Crystal Palace.