LONDON (AP) — With Tottenham’s defenders giving away easy goals, Chelsea could restore tranquility while easing Romelu Lukaku back into the team.
For Antonio Conte, though, it was a night of frustration on his return to Stamford Bridge four years after being fired by Chelsea as Tottenham lost 2-0 in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal on Wednesday.
Kai Havertz’s shot after five minutes was inadvertently diverted into his own net by Davinson Sanchez.
More absurd was the own goal in the 34th minute after Hakim Ziyech’s swung a free kick into the penalty area. There were no Chelsea players around Tottenham duo Japhet Tanganga and Ben Davies as they combined comically to gift the hosts a second goal. Tanganga’s attempt at a headed clearance came off the shoulder of Davies and past their own goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.
“We try to improve the personality, try to make less mistakes during the game,” Conte said. “Don’t lose stupid balls. This is part of a process and I repeat — I want to be very clear — in these games that we played since I was in charge, if you analyze the games, we struggle.”
There’s still a second leg to turn it around next Wednesday back on Tottenham’s home field. But the trip to west London on Wednesday, two months into Conte’s reign, reinforced the need to rebuild a team that is without a title since the 2008 League Cup
“This type of game can show us the difference, the gap,” Conte said. “We struggled a lot and they showed to be much stronger than us. For sure, we are disappointed.”
Collecting trophies — as Conte did in the Premier League and FA Cup — is familiar territory for reigning European champion Chelsea. So is the occasional off-field distraction.
Lukaku’s outburst in an interview aired last week, where he said he was unhappy with how he’s being used by Tuchel, led to the club’s record signing being dropped for Sunday’s Premier League draw against Liverpool.
Restored to the team after apologizing, the Belgium striker had a quiet first half with few touches until having a chance to head in a third before the break. In the second half, he managed a tame shot at Lloris. Most significantly, there was no sense of any dissent against him from Chelsea’s own fans.
“He was always involved in dangerous situations,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said. “He showed huge commitment in the defensive work which was important.”
Arsenal or Liverpool await in the final but the outcome of their semifinal will be delayed with the first leg postponed until next week due to a coronavirus outbreak at the Merseyside club.
Chelsea’s ability to host Tottenham was not affected by announcing two coronavirus infections in the squad ahead of kickoff, with defender Thiago Silva and midfielder N’Golo Kante testing positive.