Spurs are forced to wait another year for their chance at FA Cup glory after a 4-2 heartbreaking defeat at Wembley to their most rancorous London rivals.
The match had all the makings of a classic and Spurs dominated for large portions of the tie. Eyebrows were raised when Chelsea’s team sheet, devoid of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, was released.
It felt, in the immediate aftermath of seeing Antonio Conte’s team sheet, like a disrespectful jab to both the FA Cup and Tottenham.
How dare Conte leave his two top scorers on the bench on the most grandiose of occasions? Was it an act of defiance, or was he, like Jose Mourinho before him, playing an educated and insightful hunch?
Unfortunately for Spurs supporters, his brazen, calculated gamble paid off. It was a masterstroke by the mercurial Italian manager. Though having to begrudgingly admit it turns my stomach.
Willian, who replaced Hazard in the starting lineup, scored both goals while Son Heung-Min, playing out of position, committed the foul on Victor Moses that led to Chelsea’s first-half penalty.
Moses, like the lead in a Shakespearean classic, tumbled gracefully over Son’s outstretched and out-of-control limbs. There was less contact than on a mormon’s first date. But Son impetuously committed, leaving his fate in the hand’s of a referee who all to commonly points to the spot.
Was playing Son at left back a mistake?
Which leads to a question Mauricio Pochettino will have to face. Was playing Son at left back a decision he’ll regret?
He may not publicly admit to it, but he probably internally regrets it.
Son was quiet for most of the match going forward. He had 55 touches during the match, many of which in benign areas. I can see why Pochettino wanted to include Son in the Spurs team. He is the main reason Spurs advanced as far as the semi-final, the South Korean scoring his first club hat trick along with six goals in four previous FA Cup matches.
But playing him in a defensive role he’s so unaccustomed to was an error in judgement. Fortune usually favours the bold but Pochettino’s brave, verging on foolhardy, decision backfired on this occasion.
Not beyond reproach, seemingly larger-than-life managers are still people. And people are flawed, invariably making the occasional mistake.
However, their decisions are dragged under a microscope, excessively magnified. I just wish this particular error didn’t come at such a crucial time, on one of the footballing biggest stages.
Spurs spirit and resilience undone
Spurs won almost every quantifiable statistic on the day barring the one that mattered most. Chelsea were handed life by two impetuous Spurs challenges. They scored both of their first-half goals from dead ball situations. From a free kick and a penalty, Chelsea had two one-goal leads they were undeserving of.
Such is football.
Tottenham, like on innumerable previous occasions, showed resilience, determination and poise to come back. Harry Kane scored a deft header from a pinpoint Christian Eriksen left-footed cross. It was a goal out of the top drawer, displaying the striker’s often unheralded versatility.
Eriksen was instrumental in Spurs second, too. An outrageous seeing-eye delivery made Dele Alli’s finish primarily about timing. He pounced on the short hop, pile driving his left-footed half volley in from close proximity.
The rails then fell off when Conte introduced Hazard and Costa. Hazard ran riot, injecting fresh verve. Spurs had trouble coping with the crafty midfielder. Tottenham couldn’t properly clear their lines and Hazard scored the fizzing 75th-minute winner.
Nemanja Matic added to Spurs misery with the most improbable of wonder goals. It’s a goal he’ll never score again, a pure strike that only happens while Matic is in a restive state of REM.
Even his teammates couldn’t believe their eyes.
Football has the capacity to inflict unforeseen and undeserved anguish. From sweet euphoria to abject despair, the beautiful game is sometimes inexplicably cruel.
Spurs, like they’re supporters, must find a way to dig deep and recover quickly, for another London derby – against Crystal Palace – is on tap.
The margin of error is more minuscule than Chelsea’s best player and Spurs will need the same resilience they’ve shown for most of the season and in large portions of this unpalatable FA Cup semi-final.