Chelsea 2 Tottenham 0 comment: Dizzying turnover keeps Spurs on meagre rations

COMMENT: Tottenham are always building towards  a better future

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The Independent Football

It was not until after the final whistle that Petr Cech was drawn into making a meaningful contribution at Wembley on Sunday, so effectively did his Chelsea team-mates defend. Put on the spot by the media, the goalkeeper summed up the final in four succinct words: “More experience paid off.”

Experience. That was the difference. On the pitch, in the dug-out, even in the stands Chelsea knew too much for their game but callow challengers. Discipline, desire and talent also counted. This is a team that does not get tired of winning, treats even lesser competitions (like this one) as valuable, and is more interested in results than style. The Premier League trophy is likely to follow and, by the end of the season, it may be the quadruple was only prevented by a home defeat by Bradford City.

While Chelsea are the team of the present, Tottenham – even more than Arsenal – are always building towards a better future. However, just as with the long-delayed new stadium, team construction seems forever stymied by setbacks. This is primarily due to the dizzying turnover of managers, and steady departure of key players. The two are related, being a product of their frustrating inability to turn promise into silverware.

Spurs went into the match with only two trophy successes in the last two decades, both in this competition, in 1999 and 2008. Which means Gareth Bale, Jürgen Klinsmann and Luka Modric, arguably the three best footballers to play for Spurs since Glenn Hoddle left in 1987, did not win a medal while at the club. Nor did Michael Carrick and Teddy Sheringham. Like Modric and Bale, they moved on to clubs where they felt, correctly, more honours would be forthcoming. So did Sol Campbell and Dimitar Berbatov, who wanted more than the solitary League Cup medal won at White Hart Lane.

 

Winning medals is not just important for the confidence-engendering experience of success it gives a team, which John Terry referred to before this match (not that winning the FA Cup in May seems to have helped Arsenal kick on). It is probably more important in that it persuades key players to stay with a club. The three most successful clubs of recent times are Chelsea and the Manchester duo. First- team players rarely leave these clubs of their own accord – Cristiano Ronaldo did, as did, arguably, Carlos Tevez, but they are exceptions.

But those clubs always on the cusp of success – Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool – do lose players. The gap between the recent achievements of these teams was illustrated by an exchange at Finchley Road tube station en route to Wembley as Tottenham fans debated whether to go via the Metropolitan or (slower) Jubilee line. A helpful Chelsea fan explained which was the faster train. “We’d better listen, you’ve been here more often than we have,” said one of the Spurs supporters.

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Chelsea players celebrate with the trophy

So they have, though the last meeting here between the teams was not the much-mentioned 2008 final of this competition, when then-teenage academy players Harry Kane and Ryan Mason were in the victorious Spurs end, but the 2012 FA Cup semi-final which Chelsea won 5-1.

Such is the pace of change in football that only six of the combatants that day also played on Sunday. Reflecting their lesser experience, and a scattergun transfer policy, only one was in Tottenham’s colours: Kyle Walker.

This, at least, meant Spurs did not have a team which had been scarred from the experience, but a slow start suggested some of their young men were wide-eyed at playing a Wembley final. They soon settled, and held their own until Terry scored, but then Chelsea’s superior experience told.

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Tottenham players react after the match

Maybe Tottenham were drained by the trip to Florence, and defeat there, but Liverpool showed on Sunday that such travails can be overcome. Besides, Tottenham’s fitness has been a feature of their season. 

The lack of Spurs survivors from 2008 was unsurprising. Since selling Bale 18 months ago they have bought 14 players at a cost of £140m. Mauricio Pochettino picked three of them on Sunday, Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Eric Dier. By contrast, five of the team were home-grown, most of them recent first team graduates.

In the modern game there is much to admire in Tottenham’s faith in young players, especially as it is primarily in young English ones, but Chelsea’s battle-scarred old lags, Terry and Costa, Branislav Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas, had too much nous and talent. It did not matter that Eden Hazard had a rare off-day, nor that Nemanja Matic was unavailable. Their rookie, Kurt Zouma, benefited hugely from having experienced players around him. He was able to concentrate on his task – sitting in front of the back four, denying passes into Kane and shadowing Eriksen – without worrying about other areas. Zouma barely broke into a trot, but he did not need to, Ramires, Willian, even Fabregas, were doing the running for him.

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Mourinho even poses for the cameras after the win

There is no doubting Tottenham’s spirit. The number of late goals they have scored this season, and their valiant efforts to add two more on Sunday, underlined that. That is something you get from having a core of young players who have come through the ranks together.

But this was a chastening afternoon for them. Andros Townsend and Mason were withdrawn, Dier and Nabil Bentaleb booked. Danny Rose was at fault for the first goal, Kyle Walker implicated for the second. In attack Eriksen rarely escaped Zouma while the man of the moment, Kane, though ever willing, was ultimately neutered by a rolling-back-the-years display from Terry.

For all their huffing and puffing, Tottenham never forced Cech into making a save, ensuring he had plenty of time to analyse the game from his penalty box and distil its essence.

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