So after months of Lincoln City and Yeovil Town games, we take a huge leap up in quality, and take in an FA Cup semi final. Obviously I said that the quarter final between Arsenal and Lincoln City would be the end of this year’s FA Cup journey, but clearly that was not the case.
I managed to get four free tickets for the game after winning an FA Cup twitter poll for a video I shot at the quarter final game of the Lincoln fans doing the Dambusters chant. So thank you to the FA Cup for the tickets, which also kept up my record of going to every round of the competition since the first round in November.
As a Chelsea fan, I chose to sit in the that end, and our tickets were in the lower section around the halfway line. This meant that although we weren’t right in the middle of the supporters where there was probably a bit more chanting, we had a good view of the match, although I’m not sure there are many places at Wembley where you get a bad view.
Usually I can go to grounds and find a number of issues that I can criticise but you can’t really do that at Wembley. The walk down Wembley Way is something I haven’t been able to do since the last time these two teams met in the semi final five years ago, and I can’t say much has changed. The £5 for a programme is a little steep, as is the price for most of the food and drink in the ground, but I think I say that at almost every single ground that I go to.
With Lincoln and Millwall both exiting the competition at the quarter final stage, there was no chance of any huge shocks, but Antonio Conte seemed happy to make up for it with his team selection. Nathan Ake was in for the unwell Gary Cahill, but the big shocks came with the decision to leave out both Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, and replace them with Michy Batshuayi and Willian. Mauricio Pochettino also made a couple of interesting selections, including Heung Min Son at left wing-back, even with Ben Davies on the bench.
Chelsea started the game the quickest, and it looked like Conte’s changes were paying off after just a few minutes when Ake’s long pass forward was cleverly flicked on by Batshuayi into the path of Pedro, who looked to be in behind the Tottenham defence before being hacked down on the edge of the area by Toby Alderweireld. It earned him the first yellow card of the evening, but cost Spurs a whole lot more when Willian stepped up and curled the free kick through a gap in the wall and into the far corner. It was a well placed strike, but given that it was in his side, Hugo Lloris had to do better.
For the next few minutes it looked like Chelsea might take full control. The ever-reliable N’Golo Kante nicked the ball off Jan Vertonghen deep inside Spurs territory and looked to set up Batshuayi, only for the chance to be sniffed out by Moussa Dembele. Soon after Kante was doing the same job at the other end of the pitch when he was quick to react to a Tottenham free kick and block Harry Kane’s shot. Kane wasn’t to be kept out for long however, and it was his clever flick from Christian Eriksen’s low cross to bring his side level. Spurs fans were quick to break out into their favourite chant of “Harry Kane, he’s one of our own”, for the boyhood Arsenal supporter.
From that point, the men from North London looked more dangerous. Eric Dier’s header went just wide of the far post and Eriksen struck straight at Thibaut Courtois from range. But Chelsea seemed to be strong enough at the back, even if they weren’t doing much going forward. Ake looked pretty comfortable on the left side of a back three, and David Luiz was looking just as impressive as he had done for much of the season.
It was Pochettino’s team selection that was causing more of an issue, with Son constantly appearing to be out of position in his unfamiliar wing-back role. He was exposed just minutes before half time when Kante sent Moses in behind on the right, and with Son recklessly diving in, took the invitation to go to ground and win a penalty. Willian, the man who turned down Tottenham to join Chelsea in 2013, stepped up and sent Lloris the wrong way. Lloris himself got lucky just moments later, when he clearly took the ball out of his box before using his hands to push it back in. With Batshuayi ready to pounce, it was certainly a free kick, and he could have had no complaints if shown a red card to go with it.
Tottenham probably felt that they deserved more from their first half efforts, only to have been let down by a piece of naive defending by Son. They began the second half on the front foot, and they got the goal that they were hoping for early on. A superb early pass from Eriksen picked out Dele Alli in the box, and with his first meaningful contribution of the match, found the net with his left foot. It was a good finish, but it was all about the pass from Eriksen. Again Spurs had their tails up, and were once again on the front foot.
It was worth noting though that for all their pressure, Tottenham didn’t really carve out too many clear cut opportunities. They put a lot of crosses into the box and had a lot of possession in the final third, but they never really made too much from it. Conte was the first of the two managers to turn to his substitutes bench, and understandably so. Hazard and Costa were both on, Batshuayi and Willian replaced.
It was clear from the start that Hazard was the man who could make the impact, with Spurs defenders unsure whether to go tight or stand off him. Tottenham’s change had Chelsea slightly less worried, with Kyle Walker coming on to take the place of the disappointing Son. And it was unsurprisingly Hazard who made the difference between the sides. The Belgian picked up the ball after Tottenham failed to properly clear a corner, and lashed it into the net. It was another fantastic finish, but he should never have been allowed the room to do so.
If Tottenham thought they had time to come back for the third time in the game, they certainly didn’t when Chelsea struck again. Hazard was involved once again, playing a one-two with fellow substitute Cesc Fabregas, before setting up Nemanja Matic to unleash a sensational strike from nearly 30 yards. It was an unbelievable strike, and I imagine had it not hit the underside of the bar, it would still be travelling. Kurt Zouma’s shock at the goal has been seen countless times on social media, but I think it was the same reaction from thousands of others in the ground, including myself.
Chelsea pushed on to try to get five, Hazard rounding Lloris and cutting back to Marcos Alonso, who saw his goal bound effort blocked by Alderweireld. Costa also got his chance to get on the score sheet, but his header from Fabregas’ cross went just wide of the upright. At the other end, luck certainly wasn’t going Tottenham’s way, with Kane’s free kick squirming through Courtois, with just the back spin on the ball stopping in crossing the line.
That was just about that, and Chelsea were through to the final yet again. Some will argue that Tottenham deserved to win, but they just didn’t have the same ruthless edge as the Blues. They also lacked a centre midfielder who could step up and score one of the great Wembley goals from 30 yards.
Unless someone is nice enough to sort me tickets for the final, that will be it for the FA Cup run. I will be publishing an article tomorrow about the journey from round one to the semi final, along with two dramatic replays.
Rating out of 10: Just about the perfect day. A fantastic game, a great atmosphere at one of the greatest modern football venues. 10/10, and once again thank you to the FA Cup for the tickets.