Tottenham tough it out against Chelsea in yet another hint at a shift of power in London

The fact that Tottenham are now winning these sorts of games in this attritional manner hints at a further shift in the balance of power between these two clubs

Tottenham Hotspur: A look back at 2018

Honours even in the tie, if not quite on the night. For Tottenham, full-time came with a sigh of relief and a hint of unease, almost as if the strains of “Glory Glory” were being played with the occasional minor chord. Harry Kane’s first-half penalty was enough to secure them the win, but the manner of their second-half rearguard had frayed their nerves to ribbons.

From the touchline, Mauricio Pochettino flapped and fumed as his side retreated further and further into their own half. Finally, he turned to his bench: the snap of Erik Lamela, the heft of Fernando Llorente, the little scurrying legs of teenage midfielder Oliver Skipp, a player with the body of a child and the face of one of the antiques experts off Bargain Hunt. None of them could turn the tide of a game rapidly tipping in Chelsea’s favour.

But with backs to the wall and the seconds ticking away, Tottenham held out. Just.

You could look at this, I suppose, in one of two ways. Either that second half badly exposed Tottenham’s limitations against Chelsea’s relentless possession football: their inertia off the ball, their inability to play their way through the press, their lack of anything resembling control in midfield.

Alternatively, you could posit that Chelsea threw everything they could at a curiously off-colour Tottenham, and still couldn’t find a way through. And the fact that Tottenham are now winning these sorts of games in this attritional manner hints at a further shift in the balance of power between these two clubs. Under Pochettino, and at home, Spurs now expect to win these games, even when they aren’t at their best.

The truth, you suspect, lies somewhere in the middle. You feel that Tottenham’s habit of doing exceptionally silly things in possession - Paulo Gazzaniga dinking the ball Phil Mickelson-style along his own goal-line, Dele Alli doing a snazzy pirouette by the left touchline, Moussa Sissoko trying a Suarez backheel with a counter-attack on - will surely cost them at some point. Equally, Chelsea have offered precious little evidence in recent weeks that they have the ability to surprise opponents, to gut-punch them, to offer anything much beyond the usual carousel of gossamer passing and hopeful final balls. Eden Hazard’s struggles up front were a prime example.

History favours Chelsea: of the 38 League Cup semi-finals since the turn of the century, the team playing at home in the second leg has won 24 and lost 14. And it’s easy to see how an early goal in the second leg, followed by a regal spell of possession, could pave the way for a Chelsea procession. Equally, Tottenham’s speed on the counter-attack - Lucas Moura could well be an option for the second leg - will offer their fans hope of only a second Wembley final under Pochettino.

What all this established beyond any doubt, coming five days after that spectacular high-speed collision at the Etihad Stadium, was that these two remain a level below Manchester City and Liverpool, the clear third and fourth best sides in the Premier League, with breathing space both above and below. And it’s what makes the second leg at Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks so tough to call. The qualities of Spurs and Chelsea are self-evident, but so are their flaws.

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