Advantage Tottenham in the Carabao Cup
Heading into the encounter, both managers had stressed the importance of starting to win silverware at their respective clubs. However in the opening fifteen minutes of the clash, it appeared as though only one side had this intent stuck firmly at the forefront of their minds, and that team were the hosts, Tottenham. In typical frantic fashion, Pochettino's players hurried and harried their visitors, barely allowing them any time on the ball.
Bar a flurry of goals, the opening exchanges of the tie had almost totally matched those of the equivalent League match between the sides in November. Tottenham were completely rampant; and clearly keen to get off to a strong start, in order to secure a positive result to take with them to Stamford Bridge, for the reverse tie in a week's time.
In spite of clear dominance in possession. The hosts struggled to truly test visiting stopper Kepa until the twenty minute mark. However that attack would bring the opening goal of the game.
A long lobbed ball over the Chelsea back line from Alderweireld, had Tottenham captain Harry Kane scampering through on goal. As the striker reached the ball, he had the awareness to knock it around the on-rushing keeper Kepa, who then subsequently clattered into him and brought him sprawling to the turf. In spite of the clear and obvious calls for a spot kick, the referee on the night, Micheal Oliver, instead opted to call upon the help of VAR.
The linesman had indeed raised his flag for a suspected offside against the England striker, and, given the circumstances, the referee thought it best to consult the video official. In a mere 90 seconds, the decision had been made. Tottenham had correctly been awarded a spot kick. The benefit of the doubt had been given to Kane, who was adjudged to have been just onside, and thus the foul on him inside the box warranted a penalty. Keeper Kepa was also awarded a yellow card for the tackle.
As ever, striker Kane stepped up to take the responsibility for the kick, and dispatched it with aplomb. The striker smashed the ball into the bottom corner of the net, to give the home side the lead.
The opening goal did nothing to spur on a shell shocked Chelsea side. The visitors would finally test their hosts' goal after 39 minutes; N'Golo Kante popped up in the box to volley a sublime Willian cross towards goal. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, his effort would caress the outside of the post before bouncing wide.
Another effort followed soon after. Youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi showed a brief glimpse into why German giants Bayern Munich are so keen to spend big to bring him to the Bundesliga; he cut in from the right hand side, forcing Gazzaniga to tip the ball onto the bottom of the cross bar, before Sanchez cleared off the line. Alas, in spite of creating a minor series of uncomfortable incidents for Tottenham to deal with; Chelsea were unable to create anything too dangerous, and thus, the hosts held the lead heading into the interval.
The second half of the match was played in slight contrast to the first. Chelsea came out to control the ball, and did so with great effect; forcing Tottenham to produce a number of last ditch tackles and clearances in order to preserve their clean sheet. The visitors seemed to be more fluent in their passing and transition play, which led to more opportunities to test Tottenham's goal. Frenchman N'Golo Kante was the side's best threat on the night, with a handful of long range drives forcing Gazzaniga to get down smartly and parry the ball out of danger.
Nevertheless, Tottenham looked like a constant threat on the counter-attack. Having taken the lead, the hosts were content to bank on their defensive qualities to see them through to a result. Aside from one clear chance for Chelsea; Andreas Christensen poked wide from two yards out, after finding himself free to receive a flick on from a late corner, Tottenham looked comfortable. Even a flurry of late substitutions from Mauricio Pochettino could not disrupt the side's defensive solidity.
In the end, Chelsea just did not have significant enough of a goal threat to penetrate their hosts' resolute back line. Tottenham would take a slim advantage into the second leg.
Overall, on the balance of play, neither side deserved to win the match. Tottenham had been dominant in the first half, while Chelsea mosty ran the second. Yet as has proved on countless times already this season, Chelsea's lack of a recognised striker, and Tottenham's abundance in the area, was the ultimate difference.
Maurizzio Sarri will be hoping that the Chelsea board address this gaping problem in his squad before the second tie rolls around in a fortnight's time. If not, it will be Pochettino and Tottenham who will advance, and continue their own pursuit for a much coveted piece of silverware.