LONDON – Chelsea provided the perfect response to manager Maurizio Sarri’s public criticism to progress to the League Cup final by beating Tottenham 4-2 on penalties in a thrilling semi-final, second leg on Thursday.
First-half goals from N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard handed Chelsea a 2-1 win on the night to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit.
Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and David Luiz then scored from the spot to send the Blues through to face Manchester City on February 24, while Eric Dier and Lucas Moura missed for Spurs.
Sarri had questioned the mental strength of his squad and demanded Hazard to deliver more on his abundant potential in the wake of a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday, and the Italian got the response he desired against an injury-ravaged Spurs.
Kante levelled the tie with a shot from the edge of the box that went through three pairs of Spurs legs, before Hazard rounded off an excellent team move to double Chelsea’s lead.
Fernando Llorente’s header hauled the visitors back into the tie five minutes into the second half, but another chance for Spurs to win a first trophy under Mauricio Pochettino has now gone.
Spurs’ spirit could not be questioned as they battled to stay in the tie for 90 minutes despite the absence of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min, but it could prove a costly night for Pochettino’s men, as Ben Davies and Moussa Sissoko added to their growing list of injuries.
Sarri has been criticised for persisting with Hazard in a centre-forward position of late, and the decision to move the Belgian back to his preferred role on the left of a front three paid dividends.
Chelsea’s new No 9 Gonzalo Higuain was presented to the home fans before kickoff, but the Argentine’s loan move from Juventus was not completed in time for him to feature, so Olivier Giroud was handed a rare start as the focal point of the attack.
The hosts were dominant in the first 45 minutes, with Tottenham struggling to mount a threat on the counter-attack due to the 33-year-old Llorente’s lack of pace.
However, Chelsea needed a slice of good fortune to open the scoring when Kante’s shot from the edge of the area went through Dier and Sissoko’s legs to leave Paulo Gazzaniga unsighted, and the ball also nutmegged the Argentine goalkeeper.
Davies added to Spurs’ injury woes by limping off with a groin injury just after the half-hour mark, and five minutes later, that latest blow was compounded by a Chelsea second.
Ross Barkley, Pedro Rodriguez and Azpilicueta were all involved before the latter picked out Hazard to side-foot home from inside the area.
Chelsea could even have made the tie safe before halftime as Toby Alderweireld was lucky to avoid punishment for chopping down his international teammate Hazard as he bore down on goal.
Tottenham have defied the odds all season to remain fighting on four fronts despite a host of injuries, no new signings and persistent delays to the completion of the club’s new stadium.
And they did so again to get back into the tie five minutes into the second half when Llorente stooped to met Danny Rose’s cross to level at 2-2 on aggregate.
The game then roared from end to end as both sides chased the winner.
Sarri says along with motivational issues, his players had stopped having fun on the pitch in recent weeks. But he saw that change tonight and says he had a lot of fun watching his team. #CHETOT— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 24, 2019
Pochettino fell to his knees in exasperation as Llorente miscued Christan Eriksen’s inviting cross wide.
Giroud then had a huge opportunity to kick-start his faltering Chelsea career when picked out by Emerson’s cross deep into stoppage time, but the French striker headed wide to send the game to penalties.
Chelsea were more ruthless from the spot as Dier, who scored the winning penalty in England’s first ever World Cup shootout win in July, blazed over, and Kepa Arrizabalaga saved from Moura.