Ignore the fact that this was just the Carabao Cup and ignore the fact that is Chelsea’s third consecutive defeat to Tottenham, a worrying trend is emerging for Chelsea after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat.
Chelsea are able to control the match with the ball in the way that Maurizio Sarri wants from his team, but in the final third of the pitch, Chelsea aren’t able to create or finish chances against teams that sit deep in defend.
Ever since the departure of Diego Costa, Chelsea have lacked that top striker, one who can consistently score from chances created and can open up space for the likes of Eden Hazard to play.
But without that striker, it rarely looks as if Chelsea will to score, and that continued in Tuesday’s match at Wembley.
Hazard once again was asked to lead the line from the centre forward position. While he tries his best, it’s a position that doesn’t come naturally, evidenced by the number of times he dropped deep or drifted wide leaving Chelsea with no presence in the penalty area.
But aside from having no cutting edge in the final third and conceding via a contentious penalty decision, this was a much better performance against Spurs than what was seen back in November.
By the end of the match, Spurs were sitting deep and defending, though not by choice, and after a couple shaky moments early on when Spurs were able to threaten in behind, the visitors’ defence was rarely troubled.
Initially, it looked like the match would be exactly the same as November’s meeting. Spurs looked intent on taking advantage of their pace and Chelsea’s high line. After just 3 minutes, Spurs had issued their first warning when Heung-Min Son chased a long ball over the top before being shouldered off the ball by Andreas Christensen. Son threw his arms up, insisting that a penalty should be given, but Michael Oliver was unmoved by his claims.
Just a minute later, Spurs tried to take advantage of a cross the back post. Harry Kane’s attempt at the flashy overhead kick only nestled onto the roof of the net.
Chelsea began to settle into their rhythm, dominating possession in the midfield and were hit with a sucker punch just after 20 minutes.
Another hopeful ball over the top found Harry Kane, who proceeded to knock the ball around Kepa Arrizabalaga before hurtling himself over the goalkeeper’s arms and rolling on the ground.
However, the linesman’s flag was up for offside, and though the offside call was tight, VAR overruled the linesman, and Michael Oliver awarded the penalty amidst Chelsea’s protests.
Kane dispatched the penalty, but questions will be asked about the interpretation of VAR since the linesman gave offside before the penalty occurred.
N’Golo Kante nearly equalised for Chelsea when he back-heeled Ross Barkley’s cross against the base of the post, before Callum Hudson-Odoi’s cross nearly caught Paulo Gazzaniga flat-footed, forcing the Spurs keeper to tip the ball onto the crossbar, and it nearly deflected into his own net.
Christensen should have scored just before the hour from a corner when Barkley’s flicked-on header found him unmarked at the far post. Christensen couldn’t sort out his feet and volleyed the ball wide of the empty net.
Chelsea had their own shout for a penalty when Hazard cut inside from the left and his pass for Kante struck the arm of Toby Alderweireld. The ball definitely struck the Spurs defender on the arm, but Oliver and VAR chose to not award the penalty.
Chelsea continued to press forward for a goal, but none would be forthcoming, giving Spurs the lead going into the second leg at Stamford Bridge in two weeks’ time.