Tottenham analysis: Heung-min Son tactical gamble backfires for Mauricio Pochettino as Chelsea make title statement

tom collomosse
REUTERS

Eden Hazard came off the bench to help Chelsea into the FA Cup final with a 4-2 victory over Tottenham on Saturday as the Premier League leaders overwhelmed their title rivals to stay on course for a double.

Chelsea shut down Tottenham's fightback in a potent five-minute spell in the second half inspired by Hazard, who had been unexpectedly relegated to the bench.

Hazard shot the ball through a crowded penalty area into the net in the 75th minute and teed up Nemanja Matic for a powerful strike off the inside of the crossbar to secure a final against Arsenal or Manchester City.

Chelsea condemned Tottenham to a seventh successive FA Cup semifinal loss, and also has a four-point lead over its London rival in the league title race.

Tom Collomosse was at Wembley Stadium to assess the key talking points...

Pochettino’s Son conundrum

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Mauricio Pochettino was clear that he wished to revert to 3-4-2-1 for this game. Yet how could he do so without omitting Heung-min Son, who had scored eight goals in his previous six matches?

The Tottenham manager’s solution was to play the South Korean at left-wing back, instead of Ben Davies.

As usual, Son was bright and diligent but Pochettino’s gamble backfired shortly before half-time.

With Spurs well on top and the score 1-1, Son’s rash challenge on Victor Moses enabled Willian to fire Chelsea ahead from the penalty spot – his second goal of the game.

Danny Rose’s return from injury cannot come soon enough.

Similar Spurs tactics almost pay off

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When Spurs beat Chelsea at White Hart Lane early in January, their goals were identical: two Christian Eriksen crosses from the right, two pieces of slack marking by the visitors, two Dele Alli headers at the far post.

At Wembley, Spurs showed they could still exploit the weakness. Alli had made several dangerous runs into that position in the first half, but was not picked out.

Yet in the 52nd minute, with his team trailing, Alli drifted between David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta and when – guess who? – Eriksen supplied the lofted pass,

Alli equalised with a solid finish from close range. As he celebrated, Alli pointed to the sky – an apparent tribute to Ugo Ehiogu, the Tottenham Under-23 coach who died in the early hours of Friday.

Eriksen assists

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Many Tottenham players were revitalised when Pochettino switched from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 last December, but few players have enjoyed the change as much as Eriksen.

The Dane has been allowed to operate closer to the centre of the pitch and has thrived, as he did here.

His two assists – the right-wing cross with his left foot for Harry Kane’s opener, the lofted pass for Alli to make it 2-2 – told only part of the story.

Eriksen caused Chelsea difficulties throughout as he showed a remarkable ability to find pockets of space between defence and midfield. He did not deserve to finish on the losing side.

Substitutions tell the story

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With the score 2-2 and his team wobbling, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte summoned the two men he had surprisingly left out of the starting XI – Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.

We can estimate their combined transfer value at close to £200m. Hazard duly put Chelsea 3-2 up with 16 remaining.

Six minutes later, needing a goal to change things, Pochettino turned to Georges-Kevin Nkoudou – a player Spurs signed last summer who has never gained the trust of the manager and will probably leave at the end of the season.

Of course, had Spurs left Kane and Alli on the bench, their options would have looked stronger. But they could never have done so and still hoped to have won the game.

Are Spurs still title contenders?

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What effect will this result have on Tottenham’s title aspirations? For much of the game, they were the better team against a Chelsea side who left Costa and Hazard out of the starting XI.

Yet still they lost – another defeat at Wembley, where they have won only one of their last eight matches.

It does not augur well for Spurs if – as is highly likely – they play home fixtures at the national stadium next season.

But the challenge is more immediate: Pochettino must convince his players they can still overhaul Premier League leaders Chelsea, who are four points clear with six games remaining.

Spurs are straight back in action at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

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