Advantage Chelsea As Antonio Conte Endures Unhappy Reunion

Chelsea won 2-0 in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi final
21:44, 05 Jan 2022

Antonio Conte’s return to Stamford Bridge was less acrimonious than his 2018 exit, when he was sacked as manager. But the Italian coach who brought a Premier League title and an FA Cup to these parts will still not remember this visit fondly. His side were woeful at times, especially in the first half, as Chelsea comfortably outplayed them on the way to a 2-0 victory in the Carabao Cup semi final first leg.

Tottenham were architects of their own downfall in the first half, with both of Chelsea’s goals the product of sloppy defending. The first arrived early, when an effective press from Kai Havertz caused a stray pass to go to Marcos Alonso. The wing-back passed to the German, whose shot beat Hugo Lloris before Davinson Sanchez sent it high into the roof of his own net. Havertz was awarded the goal, as the ball was on its way in before the defender’s intervention. He also came away with a hand injury, leaving the pitch to have his finger bandaged.

The former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder nearly had another goal shortly afterwards. Another defensive horror show from Spurs saw the ball trickle out to Havertz at the back post. He directed his shot at the near-post, when he had time to try and pick out Lloris’ left side, and the chance went begging.

Chelsea dominated possession, keeping the ball for 69% of the first half, and had ten attempts to Tottenham’s zero. Antonio Conte’s side barely got out of their own half at times, and the manager won’t have enjoyed watching his former club pin back his new one with such ease. This was not sterile keep-ball from Thomas Tuchel’s men either. They were constantly looking for openings, and they found another one in bizarre fashion just after the half-hour mark.

Hakim Ziyech, one of the best performers of the half with his bewitching movement and silk touch, looped a free kick over which Japhet Tanganga headed straight into teammate Ben Davies and into the back of his own goal. It was a goal that summed up the defensive carelessness Spurs had displayed throughout.

Romelu Lukaku was given a chance to redeem himself after becoming a pariah for his misguided recent comments. Ziyech floated a ball over the top to present the Belgian with the sort of headed chance that is usually his bread and butter. The striker could only glance the delivery though, and the ball tumbled harmlessly wide. It typified a performance that could be described as quiet, something Lukaku perhaps should have considered being instead of speaking to Sky Sports Italia.

Conte switched to a back four for the second period, with Tanguy Ndombele coming on for Matt Doherty. The move bought the away side more possession, and a little more control, but still there were few clear cut chances. Harry Kane stung the palms of Kepa Arrizabalaga with an early free kick, but the Chelsea keeper went largely untroubled.

Similarly, while Chelsea’s energetic pressed dropped off a yard in the second half, they still looked far more dangerous on the ball. Lukaku played in Ziyech, who tried to sidefoot a shot from wide rather than striking it with the power it required. The Dutchman’s creative instincts were perfect later, when a dinked ball over the top put substitute Timo Werner one-on-one with Lloris. The striker tried to dink the ball over the France international, but the goalkeeper held his nerve and remained standing to catch the attempt.

All is not lost for Conte. While his chances of making the Carabao Cup his first piece of Spurs silverware are greatly reduced by this result, they are not erased. In a week’s time, Chelsea will travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The fiery Italian will aim not to be as welcoming to them as their fans were to him.

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