Thomas Tuchel praised the performance of Romelu Lukaku in Chelsea’s 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final first leg win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
Lukaku was not among the scorers on his return to the team after being omitted from the squad against Liverpool following his incendiary interview but still impressed the Chelsea boss.
“He was strong and he was involved,” said Tuchel. “He showed huge commitment in our defensive work and he was always dangerous and used his body well.
“I expected it because I know he can handle pressure and adversity and he seemed to be relaxed after the decision was made when we had finished our talks that he would put in a performance like that.”
Spain international midfielder Saul Niguez was also a positive for Tuchel, delivering his strongest performance in a Chelsea shirt since arriving from Atletico Madrid.
“He is more happy and he’s more free in training. I see it every day. He played better when he came on against Wolves [in the Premier League] and he had a good impact. He’s stepping up.
“It was an important moment for him. But I have a feeling he has digested his experiences in the beginning when maybe he didn’t expect to struggle quite so much after the switch. What he does is so good, because he is open, fully focused and totally committed to the team.”
The disappointment for Tuchel is that the tie is not over before the second leg has begun given Chelsea’s dominance after taking a two-goal lead inside 45 minutes.
“We could have created a bigger cushion because we created a lot of big chances for a third or a fourth goal,” he added.
“Everyone knows it’s not decided. We have to arrive with full focus and in top shape for the next leg because we need another 90 minutes of top football if we want to go through to Wembley.
“We had two last-minute bits of bad news with Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante, who were both supposed to start. So we decided yesterday to switch to a back four, and the guys were very committed, open and focused to play like we had played.
“It was a well-deserved win in a big match against a very strong opponent.”
Conte: Important gap between teams is clear
Chelsea have only lost one of their last 36 home games in all competitions against Tottenham, winning 23 times in the process.
Spurs were improved after the interval, and Harry Kane’s drilled free-kick forced a solid stop from Kepa Arrizabalaga – but it was one of very few chances.
Antonio Conte told Sky Sports: “It was a difficult game, from the start. Chelsea showed they were much better than us. In the first half, we struggled a lot but we know that we’re talking about one of the best teams in Europe and in the world.
“Last year, they won the Champions League and if you compare the two teams I think there’s not a comparison. We’re talking about a team that’s ready to win and they’ve played an important part over many years.
“Today, we have seen the difference between the two teams.”
“I said that these types of games can show us the difference in the gap there is between us and top clubs like Chelsea. We struggled a lot this evening and they showed us they are much stronger than us.
“There is a lot of work to do in many aspects, because in this moment in the last couple of years the level of Tottenham has dropped a lot. Now we have to rebuild, and to rebuild we need patience and more time.
“I understand it is not simple to accept this, especially for the fans, but we are working a lot to try and fight. Right now we are in the middle. We are not up or down, we are in the middle.
“When I speak about trying to improve the team and squad I include all these aspects now. I want to try and improve the mentality to make less mistakes during the game, to not lose stupid balls.
“It is part of a process. We need the fans to stay behind us, and they have been fantastic in the way they’ve supported us. But I want to speak the truth and say clearly we are in the middle and we need time.”
Spurs have never won away against Chelsea in the League Cup, drawing one and losing four of their visits to Stamford Bridge in the competition.
When pressed on what Spurs were lacking during a tepid first 45 minutes, the Italian added: “It is not easy to play at Stamford Bridge, the way they were very concentrated, they won the ball every time and then we conceded also a goal we were unlucky.
“When you start the game and after a few minutes they score, for sure the game becomes very difficult.
“But, I know the situation, it is very clear in this moment there is an important gap. We have to try to fight to stay in the league in a good position, but if we think we are close, I think we are not in the right way.”
Dawson: Only half-time in tie
Former Spurs defender Michael Dawson told Sky Sports:
“It could’ve been a lot worse for Tottenham but at 2-0, you’re still in it. It’s only half time.
“If they perform like they did tonight and start the way they did at Stamford Bridge, a tough place to go, then it’s going to be tough.
“We’ve spoken about the gulf of where Chelsea are and where Spurs are, and they’ve got a lot of work to do but they can be positive about the second half as it was much better.
Paid the price for a poor first half. But the tie isn’t over yet. Great noise from the away end.
— Harry Kane (@HKane) January 5, 2022
“They’ve got to be on the front foot now and take the game to Chelsea. The full-backs never got over the halfway line.
“When you go to Stamford Bridge, you’ve got to show big character and be calm in possession but that’s not what we saw. They’ll be really disappointed but in the second half, they changed formation.
“They’re still in the tie, but that’s the only positive for Antonio Conte. Chelsea absolutely dominated the game tonight.”
Did we see start of Saul’s Chelsea career?
Saul Niguez was handed a start in midfield alongside Jorginho, and the Spaniard impressed on his 12th appearance for the club – making more tackles (six), interceptions (three) and a 100 per cent passing accuracy into the final third.
Dawson added: “He’s had a tough time since coming to Chelsea, playing in different positions but tonight it suited him in midfield and it suited him. He got on the ball and he tried to break things up.
“For him and Jorginho, it was a comfortable night and what he did, he did well, breaking things up and making tackles.
“It was a positive performance from him tonight as he’s had his critics. We’ve certainly not seen the best of him so far, but this was a performance he would’ve enjoyed. He took his opportunity tonight.”
Carabao Cup schedule
Source : Sky Sports