Nemanja Matic’s thunderbolt capped of a significant win for Chelsea as the Blues won 4-2 against title rivals Tottenham Hotspur to book their place in the FA Cup final.
The fiercely contested affair started positively for Antonio Conte’s side as in the 4th minute, Willian curled a sumptuous free kick past a stranded Hugo Lloris following Toby Alderweireld’s uncharacteristic mistake, which left Spanish forward Pedro on the floor just outside the box.
Mauricio Pochettino’s youthful side struggled to gain a foothold in the early stages, as Chelsea dominated the possession and chances.
In the 17th minute, however, Spurs’ talisman forward Harry Kane’s delicate, stooped header guided Christian Eriksen’s cross into the far corner, suggesting last season’s brittle mentality was left in the past.
The goal appeared to galvanise Tottenham, who began to dictate the use of the ball and show the confidence brought into the game from their incredible league form; convincingly winning their previous seven games in the Premier League.
Despite their impressive play, they failed to capitalise and take the lead. Spurs’ failure to be clinical was punished just before half-time as makeshift wing back Heung Min Son’s defensive frailties were exposed. The South Korean’s slide tackle sent Victor Moses tumbling in the penalty area, giving the Blues a penalty and an avenue back into the game.
Willian coolly converted the spot kick, before a relieved Chelsea and a discouraged Spurs headed down the tunnel for half time.
Pochettino’s side seemed unfazed as they came out for the second half as the momentum stayed with the Whites.
This time they were rewarded as Dele Alli struck Eriksen’s exquisite pass into the back of the net from close range, six minutes into the second period.
On the hour mark, Conte brought on his two surprising admissions, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, for begrudged goal scorer Willian and striker Michy Batshuayi.
Despite Tottenham’s continued ascendancy, Chelsea’s substitutions paid off. In the 74th minute Hazard’s low strike found the bottom corner and knocked the stuffing out of an unlucky Spurs eleven.
Matic’s superb strike into the top right corner was the icing on the cake for Conte’s side, who habitually bounced back after a disappointing loss to Man United. The win will instil confidence into the Blues, who are looking to win their second title in three years.
Spurs’ Wembley woes continue but what does this mean for the title race?
The 4-2 loss means that Tottenham have lost their last seven FA Cup semi-finals and have only won once in their previous nine games at Wembley.
Pochettino’s side’s woeful form at Wembley is a worrying sight for season ticket holders, who could watch their side play all 19 of their home matches there next season.
Despite a discouraging result, Spurs played brilliantly and were the better side for the majority of the game and should be confident at they enter the final six Premier League games of the campaign.
However, last season’s capitulation, in which they failed to win their last four games in the Premier League, began in a 2-2 draw against Chelsea. Fears of a repeat must be present in the minds of Tottenham fans, despite an apparent strengthened mentality this year.
After Spurs’ emphatic win over Bournemouth and Chelsea’s disappointing loss at Old Trafford, questions about a title race resurfaced as there were only four points separating the two London rivals.
Now, although the numerical difference remains the same, the confidence Conte’s side will have picked up from this win will likely propel them to the title.
If Spurs are to challenge the Blues, they will need to bounce back and show last seasons’ experience has strengthened them as a squad.