A heavy blanket of rain fell over Wembley’s turf just before Diego Costa’s deflected strike after 57 minutes made it 2-0 and all but ended the Capital One Cup final between Chelsea and Tottenham.
It dampened shirts and spirits, and with it and the goal, Spurs’ season was nigh-on drowned three days after their inglorious exit from the Europa League at the hands of Fiorentina. Of course they still have the race for the top four but even that appears to be following a familiar pattern. Six points off of Manchester United in fourth with a game in hand; with Liverpool and Arsenal in fine fettle it’s an uphill slog after a long, laborious season.
The scoreline tells only half the story. Having overcame Chelsea on New Year’s Day in thrilling fashion Jose Mourinho paid perhaps the ultimate compliment to Spurs by fielding centre-back Kurt Zouma in midfield in place of the suspended Nemanja Matic.
The hulking Frenchman was tasked with one job and one job only; to stop Mauricio Pochettino’s side from swarming forward unimpeded. He did the job well, although having flown back from Italy only two days ago Spurs, in particular Harry Kane, looked a little jaded.
Comfort in defeat
Despite that it was Tottenham who enjoyed the better of the first half; the midfield pairing of Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb - who is well on his way to being a special player - ran the show in the middle of the park with Chelsea sitting uncharacteristically deep to avoid being exposed.
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Moral victories offer little solace, especially when they come in cup finals. But that’s all Tottenham could take away, the only morsel of comfort as John Terry prodded his side home on the stroke of half time. A foolish tackle by Nacer Chadli on Branislav Ivanovic allowed Willian to deliver into the Spurs box, and from the ensuing chaos it was Chelsea’s captain who reacted quickest, benefiting from a deflection that left Hugo Lloris grasping at thin air.
There was still a game to be played and Diego Costa was certainly playing it as well as ever; first clashing with Eric Dier, before goading Chadli with a flick to the face. Kyle Walker was the next in line for the treatment. Most women and some men will admit he’s the most irritating Brazilian you can get.
I know it's over
Spurs had rescued 16 points this season from losing positions this season but in truth there was little if any signs of a comeback after the second goal. Thier spirit, finally, after 44 matches this season, had been broken and there would be no repeat of the 2008 final between the same sides.
Pochettino and his team will now mull over the ashes of their quickly unravelling campaign. That’s five games without a win since their coming-of-age moment against Arsenal last month. When the going’s got tough, Tottenham just haven’t got going. Next they face Swansea in what will be their fifth game in 13 days. Lose that and it really will be all over.
But all is not lost. After two damaging seasons there is a whiff of optimism around White Hart Lane. Pochettino has breathed life into a listing club. Five players who took to the field this afternoon were either academy products or spent time in the youth team before making their first team debut. The Argentinian has his team playing some of the most exciting stuff their fans have seen since Harry Redknapp’s band of merry men were strolling around. Even if the top four proves to be elusive once more, there's something tangible in the air in north London.
An ending fitting for a start
In the end the rain had stopped, the Tottenham end had emptied and the Chelsea flags were fluttering. Mourinho began his celebrations while Tottenham players lay strewn over the slick turf. They looked utterly shot, and they probably were. Just before, John Terry who was voted as man of the match, stopped Harry Kane from grabbing a consolation with a fine late block. Even that crumb of comfort evaded Spurs.
The first trophy of the Mourinho era mark two was in the bag, and it was his first since 2012. The Special One may have a semi-final hex but he knows how to go for the kill in the big games. This was his 12th major final, and his 10th win. Before the game Branislav Ivanovic spoke of how a win at Wembley could provide the inspiration for a historic treble. That may be a little premature but with Manchester City dropping points against Liverpool the Double at least seems a near certainty.
For the Blues, it’s onwards and upwards until May. Tottenham meanwhile have a period of introspection to look forward too. On a cold evening on the first day of March, their season effectively came to end. Football can be such a cruel, unfair game.
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