Blues on course for the double

Conte's calculated risk to bench Hazard and Costa pays off with FA Cup semi-final victory

Chelsea's Eden Hazard scoring in the 75th minute to give his side a 3-2 lead. The Blues beat Spurs 4-2 to move into the FA Cup final and will fancy their chances of doing the double this season.
Chelsea's Eden Hazard scoring in the 75th minute to give his side a 3-2 lead. The Blues beat Spurs 4-2 to move into the FA Cup final and will fancy their chances of doing the double this season.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • Antonio Conte said he was proud to have led Chelsea to the FA Cup final after taking a big "risk" by leaving Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench.

Blues boss Conte raised eyebrows with his decision to start without the influential Hazard and Spain striker Costa for Saturday's 4-2 semi-final win over Tottenham.

Conte rested the duo ahead of the Premier League leaders' crucial clash against Southampton tomorrow and the bold move proved an inspired decision.

Willian, Hazard's replacement, scored twice, before the Belgian came on in the second half to put Chelsea ahead for good in the 75th minute. Nemanja Matic sealed victory with a superb late strike.

  • 7

  • Number of successive FA Cup semi-finals Tottenham have lost, a run stretching back to 1993. Spurs have also lost seven times at the new Wembley stadium, the most by any team in England.

Conte also opted to hand Nathan Ake his third appearance since he was recalled from a loan spell at Bournemouth in January, after Gary Cahill was ruled out with illness. The 22-year-old was preferred to John Terry in Chelsea's three-man defence, and he started the move that led to the opener.

Conte conceded he had rolled the dice with his selection, but he was ready to accept the blame if the gamble had backfired.

"During the season there is a moment as a coach you must take a strong decision. You have to take a risk," said the Chelsea manager.

"Now I hope on Tuesday to get a great performance from Eden and Diego."

Reaching a first FA Cup final since they last won the competition in 2012 keeps Chelsea on course for the double in Conte's first season in charge.

Chelsea have a four-point advantage over second placed Tottenham in the title race.

"We have to try to exploit the momentum," acknowledged the Italian, who claimed Chelsea have been harshly treated by the Premier League fixture planners as Tottenham have an extra day to recover before travelling to Crystal Palace on Wednesday. "This week is crucial for us because in this week Tottenham have the advantage.

"You must try to have balance with the fixtures and put both teams in the best situation to fight.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to understand the fixtures, but we have to answer on the pitch."

Yet Tottenham's latest failure on the big occasion raised renewed questions about a talented team's ability to turn potential into prizes.

Mauricio Pochettino's side also lost to Chelsea at Wembley in the 2015 League Cup final, and flopped at Wembley while playing their Champions League matches there earlier this season.

"I can't change the past. I know the history but I believe this is an exciting team," said the Tottenham manager. "Two years ago it was difficult to imagine we could fight for the Premier League but it is a reality."

The Argentinian did his best to accentuate the positives of a enterprising display, and refused to acknowledge a lack of killer instinct had derailed his side.

"It's difficult to explain. We were unlucky. I feel proud of my players," he said. "It's true the players are disappointed but we will move on.

"We will work on the training ground to focus on the next game against (Crystal) Palace."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Blues on course for the double'. Print Edition | Subscribe