Thomas Tuchel’s trophy hunters on a roll as Chelsea ease through to Wembley
The Premier League title may be all but out of reach ahead of Saturday’s showdown with champions and runaway leaders Manchester City – but the European champions still have plenty to play for between now and May.
The 6,000 away fans were already chanting about another Wembley appearance – and even if VAR added more drama to this semi-final second leg than there might have been, Chelsea’s lead never looked like being overturned.
With the Club World Cup to come next month, as well as the resumption of the Champions League and a fourth round FA Cup tie with Plymouth before that, Tuchel has plenty of targets to keep him and owner Roman Abramovich interested.
Of course City’s domestic dominance is an ongoing source of frustration to everyone at Chelsea, but no other English club can win as many trophies as Tuchel’s side this season.
The European Super Cup was secured before the league campaign even kicked off – and the Club World Cup could be added to that when they head off to Abu Dhabi next month.
Tuchel knows the importance of silverware to one of the most demanding owners in world football. And even if he falls short in the pursuit of City, which seems certain as they trail Pep Guardiola’s side by 10 points, the more showpiece occasions he can deliver, the better it is for his long-term security.
That this 1-0 victory came at the expense of bitter rivals Spurs and former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte only made the moment sweeter.
Tottenham were supposed to be on the up going into last week’s first leg – while Chelsea’s campaign was in danger of going into freefall after an alarming December slump.
Instead Conte’s team were brushed aside with a certain amount of ease, with the tie close to being settled at the halfway stage – and sealed before the second leg had even reached the 20-minute mark.
Yes, Spurs provided some form of fightback after Rudiger’s strike, with two penalties overturned by VAR, as well as a Harry Kane would-be equaliser, but Chelsea were allowed to manage the game to a conclusion without reaching top gear.
Had they needed to step it up a level, the feeling was that they could have done so any time.
By the end, Tuchel felt like he was already preparing for City – giving Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante minutes after their recent Covid absences.
The job had been completed long before.
Chelsea had dominated the first half even before taking the lead, with Romelu Lukaku forcing a save from Pierluigi Gollini early on when bringing down a long ball from Rudiger and getting a shot off from close range.
If the Spurs goalkeeper had impressed on that occasion, he was found wanting when Chelsea opened the scoring. Rudiger rose to meet Mason Mount’s in-swinging corner, with Gollini failing to punch clear and leaving his net wide open.
With that goal the tie was effectively over as a contest, but Spurs had their moments.
Andreas Christensen deflected Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s effort from the edge of the box narrowly wide. From the resulting corner, Davinson Sanchez’s header was so close to being turned in by Kane at the far post.
Spurs thought they had been given a lifeline when Rudiger sent Hojbjerg tumbling in the box shortly before half time.
But the cheers from the home fans were short-lived as VAR correctly adjudged contact to have been made outside of the area.
In the second half Spurs would be denied by VAR twice more.
Kepa was penalised for bringing down Lucas Moura – only for replays to show it was an outstanding challenge from the Chelsea goalkeeper.
And when Kane then capitalised on a mix-up between Kepa and Jorginho to fire home an equaliser, VAR showed the England captain was offside in the build-up.
For all of Spurs’ pressure it was not enough to give their fans even the consolation of an equaliser.
The supporters in the away end, meanwhile, were left to look forward to yet another trip to Wembley.