London - Eden
Hazard fired Chelsea into the FA Cup final as the Belgian's blistering
strike ensured Antonio Conte's selection gamble paid off in his side's
dramatic 4-2 win over Tottenham on Saturday.
Blues boss Conte
sprang a major surprise by starting with Hazard and Diego Costa on the
bench in the Wembley semi-final as he looked ahead to the Premier League
leaders' vital fixture against Southampton on Tuesday.
Conte's bold moves proved inspired as Hazard's replacement Willian put
Chelsea ahead early on and then restored their lead in the second half
after Harry Kane's equaliser.
Dele Alli levelled again for
Tottenham, but Conte had all the answers and, when he sent on Hazard,
the Belgian blasted Chelsea back into the lead.
thunderous long-range effort sealed a final date against Arsenal or
Manchester City, who meet in the second semi-final on Sunday.
seen their lead at the top of the league cut to four points by second
placed Tottenham last weekend and looking vulnerable following a limp
defeat at Manchester United, this should be a huge psychological boost
for Conte's men.
They rode their luck at times but showed a decisive killer instinct while their London rivals came up short in crunch time.
losers yet again at Wembley and still without an FA Cup final
appearance since 1991, need an immediate response in their midweek trip
to Crystal Palace if they are to get revenge by pipping Chelsea to the
Conte's decision to pick Willian and Michy Batshuayi
instead of Hazard and Costa triggered a round of second guessing, but it
took just five minutes for the former Juventus coach to be vindicated.
Breaking at pace, Chelsea worked the ball towards Batshuayi and his deft backheel sent Pedro surging clear.
the Spaniard was sent sprawling by Toby Alderweireld's lunge, Chelsea
were hoping for a more severe punishment than the yellow card shown by
referee Martin Atkinson.
But their frustration was short-lived as
Willian stepped up to exact retribution from the free-kick, the
Brazilian's superb 20-yard strike eluding Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo
Lloris before nestling into the far corner.
Kane has been the
spearhead of Tottenham's impressive run this season and the England
striker's typically predatory finish drew them level in the 18th minute.
Christian Eriksen prepared to whip over a cross, Kane was already on
the move and his awareness gave him a valuable extra yard of space on
Chelsea defender Nathan Ake as he stooped to guide a delicate header
past Thibaut Courtois.
But, despite controlling possession for
long periods, Pochettino's side still ended the half behind as his
decision to play Son Heung-Min out of position at left wingback was
exposed in the 43rd minute.
Kante slipped a pass to Victor Moses
and when the Nigerian's surge into the penalty area was halted by Son's
rash tackle Atkinson gave the penalty on the advice of his linesman.
Batshuayi wanted to take it, but Conte demanded Willian step up and he stroked home the spot-kick in confident style.
It could have been a major momentum changer, yet Tottenham were level again in the 52nd minute.
looking up as he received the ball, Eriksen unfurled a majestic pass
towards Alli, who timed his run perfectly to slide in front of Luiz and
direct a close-range finish past Courtois.
Conte responded by
sending for the cavalry as Costa and Hazard came on for Willian and
Batshuayi in the 61st minute, while Cesc Fabregas was introduced soon
Once again, Conte's instincts were spot on and the Italian's changes brought the winner in the 75th minute.
corner was only partially cleared and Hazard seized the ball just
inside the area before drilling a blistering finish beyond Lloris.
that was a memorable strike, there was even better to come five minutes
later when Hazard teed up Matic and Serb's thunderous 30-yard rocket
sent Chelsea into raptures.