Chelsea might not be the prettiest or most exciting team in the Premier League, but it showed again in the Capital One Cup final on Sunday why it is the best.
Chelsea beat Tottenham, 2-0, at Wembley on Sunday with an exemplary display of rope-a-dope. Chelsea absorbed energetic early pressure. It hit Spurs with a couple of scruffy goals either side of half time. Then it soaked up Tottenham pressure with well-organized defending, judicious fouling, a dollop of time wasting, and a dash of luck.
“We handled the game very well.” John Terry told Sky TV after the game.
Unlike most Premier League teams, Chelsea’s back four prefers to sit deep. This protects the two center backs Terry and Gary Cahill whose great qualities do not include pace. Since José Mourinho likes his midfield to screen just in front of the defense, it means the resting position of this Chelsea team is with nine or ten men in its own half.
Three years ago, Chelsea, under Roberto di Matteo, faced Tottenham in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley and took a two-goal lead with goals either side of half time. Gareth Bale replied for Spurs. Chelsea responded by scoring three times in the last 23 minutes to win 5-1.
On Sunday there was a moment, after the second goal, when it looked as if Chelsea might inflict a similar humiliation on Tottenham. The Blues showed glimpses of what an exhilarating attacking team it can be. Eden Hazard, in particular, seemed to be able to beat whatever defender came to meet him every time. Instead, Chelsea took a deep breath and settled back into stubborn defense.
“Finals are not to play but to win,” Mourinho told Sky.
Both Chelsea’s goals had an element of good fortune. John Terry pounced on a poor clearing header from a free kick in the 45th minute. Diego Costa’s shot deflected in off Kyle Walker after 56 minutes.
But those are the cracks that appear when an opposing team feels it is being throttled by Mourinho’s boa constrictor.
Chelsea does have a lot of big bodies to push into the box for set pieces. Terry has long been a specialist in pouncing on scraps in those situations. This was his 63rd Chelsea goal.
Costa also has a knack for scoring ugly goals.
"If he doesn't shoot, it's not a goal," Cesc Fàbregas told Sky.
The pressure tells. Opponents make more mistakes than Chelsea. Chelsea knows how to exploit them.
Tottenham managed to create cracks of its own when it beat Chelsea, 5-3, on New Year’s Day. Maybe Sunday’s game would have followed a different pattern if Christian Eriksen’s 10th minute free kick had dipped an inch more. Instead it smashed the crossbar.
That was the closest Spurs came as it completed a week which has torpedoed its season and demonstrated the gulf between Tottenham and the Premier League elite. Spurs were bounced out of Europe on Thursday. They are now six points behind the Champions League places.
Meanwhile, Chelsea won its first domestic trophy in five years. Mourinho won his first trophy of any kind since 2012.
“That’s the first one,” Terry said. “That could be the start of something good.”
It could indeed; Chelsea also took a step to recapturing the Premier League on Sunday when Liverpool beat Manchester City.
Of course, Terry and Mourinho’s idea of “good” might not be the same as that of the neutral soccer fan.