WHAT Antonio Conte would give for a defender as streetwise as Thiago Silva.
Chelsea’s Brazilian veteran successfully conned referee Paul Tierney into disallowing a Harry Kane ‘opener’ – then headed home the second goal for the European champions, as Spurs collapsed in a heap.
Spurs have now faced Chelsea four times this season – three of them under Conte – and lost all four, without scoring.
At least not one which counted – as Kane also had an effort disallowed for offside in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane.
Chelsea were supposedly knackered by a heavy schedule but they still had far too much for their hapless rivals – Hakim Ziyech netted a gorgeous opener before Thiago’s header settled the contest.
Spurs, in theory, could have moved to within five points of Chelsea with four games in hand by winning here.
But despite the controversy of Kane’s non-goal – after an innocuous nudge had sent the 37-year-old Thiago sprawling just before half-time – a Spurs victory never looked likely.
After seeing his own shoddy back line gift Chelsea two goals in the first leg of that semi-final, Conte employed six specialist defenders here – and it still wasn’t enough.
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Having fallen out of the title race, a run of four Premier League games without a win had seen Thomas Tuchel’s side starting to sweat over their place in the top four.
But as they head into the international break for a well-earned breather, this will have calmed the mood at Stamford Bridge.
‘Can we play you every week?’ asked the gloating Chelsea fans – even though they pretty much have been lately.
It was their third meeting in 18 days, although it wasn’t a case of familiarity breeding contempt – given that these two clubs had utter contempt for each other long before that.
Having seen his side outclassed here in the semi-final, Conte opted for a 4-4-2 with four specialist full-backs – Matt Doherty and Ryan Sessegnon supplying extra defensive cover on the flanks.
Despite Tuchel’s complaints about fixture congestion, Chelsea did not look remotely leggy.
After just 44 seconds, Mason Mount sprinted down the right and picked out Romelu Lukaku, who lashed his shot over.
Ziyech was particularly lively, cutting inside and swinging in a peachy cross which Callum Hudson-Odoi headed wide of the far post.
Then Ziyech cut in again and had a stinging shot pushed away by a diving Hugo Lloris.
There was a decent helping of derby-day edge about it too.
Doherty survived a VAR check for treading on the ankle of Malang Sarr and then Japhet Tanganga went clattering into an advertising hoarding after a barge on Mount.
Thiago was booked for a cynical challenge on Steven Bergwijn – and then the great controversy, shortly before half-time.
Sessegnon, who had just burst through and dragged a shot so far wide it almost went out for a corner, squared from the left and found Kane.
But the England skipper had nudged Thiago in the back, sending the Brazilian into an exaggerated fall before Kane turned and stroked his shot into the net.
Ref Paul Tierney immediately disallowed it and while Thiago seemed to go down far too easily, it did not look like the sort of clear-and-obvious incident a VAR would overturn – and Darren England, down the road at Stockley Park, concurred.
Spurs were still fuming at the break, Kane holding a lengthy debate with the ref at the whistle and Conte heading down the tunnel with a face like thunder.
Chelsea certainly took full advantage of their let-off – within ten minutes of the re-start, they had blitzed Tottenham and seized a two-goal lead.
The first goal was made by Hudson-Odoi, wriggling free of his man and surging down the left and switching it across to Ziyech.
The Moroccan took one step inside and curled a deft 20-yarder into the top corner – a gorgeous finish, with shades of Glenn Hoddle at Watford or Trevor Brooking in Budapest.
Almost immediately, Lloris pushed away a more powerful Ziyech long-ranger and Mount whistled a shot just over.
Spurs were buckling badly and when Eric Dier fouled Hudson-Odoi, Mount swung in a free-kick and Thiago got above Davinson Sanchez to head past Lloris.
As the Bridge erupted in euphoria, Kane was moaning at Tierney again – presumably still reliving his disallowed goal as there appeared to be nothing wrong with Thiago’s effort.
Lukaku turned Sanchez and had a shot pushed away by Lloris – before Antonio Rudiger, who had been at his rugged best, seemed to complain to Tierney about some abuse he’d received from the Spurs fans, with whom he has history.
Kepa Arrizabalaga made a fine save to turn a Kane header around the post.
But this was one of those days when nothing would fall in the England striker’s favour and when he must have been wishing Manchester City had tried harder to sign him last summer.
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