Sunday, April 15, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: April 16, 7:05 PM UK
Spurs handed Sunday spanking
John Brewin, Wembley
As Florent Malouda scored Chelsea's fifth, he did so in front of a Chelsea end already planning a night of celebration. The Tottenham equivalent was a desolate scene of plastic seats, almost completely empty of fans. They had been handed a Sunday spanking. And while Spurs had reason to bellyache about a piece of exceptionally poor refereeing, they had been humiliated. A season in which they had come to expect capital supremacy lurches towards the pain of failure to achieve any of their targets.
Harry Redknapp faces an examination of his legendary motivational talents to get Tottenham into fourth place in the Premier League. England can wait: his current day job is in need of rescue.
"I need to make a team of that group that's going to fight for fourth spot," Redknapp said, admitting that his team's season is in marked danger. "They have to show some character."
Roberto Di Matteo, meanwhile, finds himself as the latest in a line of successful interim managers at Chelsea. Avram Grant, however, did not often have the fans singing his name. Such an emphatic win in this particular fixture will cut the Italian further into Stamford Bridge legend.
A spirit of civic togetherness shown by Saturday's visitors from Merseyside was not repeated for this semi-final. Perhaps the tea-time kick-off did not help matters - the train to the ground was awhiff with a stale odour of beer. Yet that presents no excuse for the group of Chelsea fans who decided it would be a lark to chant throughout the minute's silence on the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster that also served to remember departed Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini. Such regrettable behaviour also throws up fears of possible repercussions when Liverpool are faced three weeks hence in the final.
It was moment to blight even a historic victory such as this and Di Matteo offered the club's views of such actions. "We are extremely disappointed that a minority decided to speak or sing during the minute's silence," he said.
Tottenham and Chelsea is perhaps London's most vicious rivalry, even including Spurs' with Arsenal. At a time when the nation welcomes Songs of Praise into its living rooms, this was to be no lazy Sunday. And it promises to be a hideous bout of Monday morning blues for all involved with Tottenham.
While Chelsea have revived under Di Matteo's temporary stewardship, Spurs have listed badly. 'Mind The Gap' T-shirts that jibed at their London rivals are no longer on sale. The uncertain future of Redknapp has been cast as the reason, yet Spurs' faltering has actually replicated what happened last season when a Champions League distraction was blamed. And, as with Everton the previous day, a poor record against ancient rivals may also have damaged belief, even though the manner of Chelsea's second goal must be viewed as the key moment.
The type of woeful officiating that clogs up radio phone-ins and social media handed Chelsea an unjust second goal in the 49th minute. Referee Martin Atkinson was perfectly positioned to give the correct decision yet ruled that Juan Mata's shot had crossed the line despite the ball not passing Carlo Cudicini, a raft of bodies from both sides or, crucially, the line. It was a desperately poor piece of judgment.
"He must have guessed," Redknapp said. He was prepared to say Atkinson had made an "honest mistake", having spoken to him in immediate post-match. "He said he feels worse than I do about it and I said I don't think so. He said he knows he will have a bad week."
It was credit to Spurs that they got themselves back into the game, however briefly.
Bale's tap-in when Emmanuel Adebayor had taken the ball beyond Cech reopened the game as a contest. Yet again, there was a question over the refereeing. Cech had clattered Adebayor before Bale slotted in. "I would rather have had the penalty and the sending off than the goal," an exasperated Redknapp said on a day when little had gone right for him and his team.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have recovered their old, battling resolve under Di Matteo and, as Spurs pushed on for an equaliser, a breakaway allowed Ramires to end the game as a contest. Tottenham had been hard done by, but Chelsea's old dependables had taken the game beyond reach.
While level at 0-0, John Terry had stopped a Rafael van der Vaart header on the goal-line. Not even Martin Atkinson could give that one as a goal.
And, after a first half where Spurs had enjoyed the better possession and had begun to create genuine chances, Drogba showed why he is Chelsea's Wembley wizard. It was prosaic route-one stuff of the kind that Andre Villas-Boas would have turned his aristocratic nose up at, but Lampard's hopeful loft found Drogba, who shook off Gallas with a shrug, and then crashed past Carlo Cudicini.
It was an unstoppable finish and a reminder of why Drogba is almost always the man for the big occasion. Fernando Torres may have the price tag, and even a run of recent form, but Drogba is still the go-to guy. Even AVB used to recognise that, choosing the Ivorian over the Spaniard when it was win or bust against Valencia in the Champions League.
And to all but complete the job, it was Frank Lampard who scored a tremendous free-kick from over 30 yards out. Spurs fans may not enjoy the comparison but it somewhat resembled one of their famous Wembley moments - Paul Gascoigne's strike against Arsenal in 1991.
Malouda's fifth piled on the agony to that small group of Spurs fans who saw it while Chelsea's confidence should be sky high ahead of the superhuman test that they face in welcoming Barcelona to the Bridge in midweek.
"Tonight, we were very clinical," Di Matteo said. And while Spurs were hardly lucky, and had definite cause for complaint, they had been beaten into a painful submission.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Didier Drogba. The temptation was to hand this award to the hapless Atkinson but, to set ridicule to one side, it was Drogba who wrested control of this match. A great goal set the tone and he dominated Gallas and Ledley King.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: They had been the better team until Drogba's goal, with Van der Vaart influential, but they were mortally wounded by Atkinson's error. They may have been pushing for an equaliser but Ramires' crucial goal came through poor defending. It soon became a horrible evening for them to endure.
CHELSEA VERDICT: Winning as ugly as ever, power was the factor that took them to the final. Their big players all played a part and what had looked a written-off season is still very much alive. The small matter of Barcelona can be faced with confidence in the bag.