Thomas Tuchel steers Chelsea to another final but it's grim for Antonio Conte as Spurs look miles off standard

By Miguel Delaney

EFL Cup semi-final, second leg Tottenham Hotspur 0 Chelsea 1 (Chelsea win 3-0 on aggregate)

Having spent two years at Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte didn’t need this defeat to realise the standards at the top level.

Chelsea reminded him anyway, as they beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 to make it 3-0 on aggregate in this League Cup semi-final and also make it three consecutive finals in a row.

For all the debate about his team lately, Thomas Tuchel has kept up a remarkable record of reaching the final of every knock-out competition he’s entered. He is now one game away from a second trophy, after last season’s Champions League.

Tottenham, meanwhile,- still look so far away from their first since 2008, despite the effect of Conte himself.

This will only have reasserted to the Italian how badly he needs to reinforce this Spurs team. They may not be anywhere near as wealthy as Chelsea, but this squad doesn’t look of the level it should be. That could be seen in the line-ups.

The only surprise about this game was that Conte started Pierluigi Gollini in such an important match, and his most influential moment was missing the corner that bounced in off Antonio Rudiger.

It was also the main intrigue of the game. No matter what Conte said afterwards, many will still be wondering what exactly the rationale was.

Was it to do with Hugo Lloris’ contract running out? Was it to make a point about recruitment?

The game as a whole did enough of that.

Baffling as it may seem given how the game developed, Spurs did actually start with some urgency. They looked like Conte had at least motivated them.


Wounds

The ability to keep ithat going is a different issue, though, especially against a side of Chelsea’s depth and quality.

The European champions killed Spurs in two ways – although both led to some self-inflicted wounds.

There was first, the way they just took command of the ball, and the territory. There were long stretches when Chelsea simply penned Spurs in, just taking that energy out of their game.

There was then the clinching goal.

While Rudiger has now been responsible for a few big moments in front of goal, this was maybe more down to Gollini.

Under pressure, but not exactly taking command of his own area, the goalkeeper missed Mason Mount’s corner. That meant the ball simply hit Rudiger’s back and went in.

Even though away goals don’t count in League Cup semi-finals in normal time, it just felt that was that.

The game had the feel of a face-saving exercise, underlaid by the vague feeling that Spurs might be capable of something if they could get within reach.

This is a Conte team, after all.

And there were frustratingly tantalising moments. There were two penalty calls that were ultimately overturned by VAR. Both decisions were correct, but it was maybe surprising that Rudiger escaped a red card for his lunge on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. It looked a goalscoring opportunity.

Harry Kane then had the ball in the net in the second half, but he was visibly offside, in another obvious decision that had to be overturned.

As many questions could be asked of the officiating in this one.

But it is also games like this that bring the biggest wonder of all, which is why the Italian took this job.

It is really a Conte team in name, only.

He still has so much work to do, because it is still a Tottenham team that remain the remnants of the Pochettino era.

They are so short of the depth and level required.

The planning at the club isn’t all to blame, of course. They simply aren’t as wealthy as Chelsea. But there can still be questions about how much they’ve spent and where they’ve spent it. Conte must be wondering the same now.

It is not just that he doesn’t really have a squad to compete. It is that he barely has a first XI.

There are too many positions filled with players not up to the standard.

If Conte had his way, how many would actually survive into an idealised XI? Kane? Lucas Moura? Ben Davies? Harry Winks?

Against that, Chelsea just had too much power and too much quality. How Spurs would love to have the luxury of bringing someone like Hakim Ziiyech off the bench.

Conte will only be increasing the pressure about signings. The gulf is too great.

It is why Spurs still haven’t won a trophy since they lifted the League Cup itself in 2008. And it’s why Chelsea made it their 15th in that time, as well as the 18th of Roman Abramovich’s time in charge.

Tuchel has been responsible for two of those.

Conte knows that is the level he should be aspiring. Whether it is the level Spurs can even get close to might end up one of the main tensions of his tenure. (© Independent News Service)



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