LONDON (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino hailed Tottenham’s growing maturity as Harry Kane fired them a step closer to the League Cup final with a 1-0 win over Chelsea in the semi-final first leg early yesterday.
Pochettino’s side are chasing their first trophy since winning the 2008 League Cup at the expense of Chelsea.
Kane’s first-half spot-kick, awarded via VAR, settled a hard-fought encounter to keep Tottenham on course for a first League Cup final appearance since their 2015 defeat against the Blues.
That loss was one of several missed opportunities for Pochettino to win the first silverware of his promising managerial career.
This was an important step towards ending that drought.
“We were very competitive. The effort was massive. Whether or not we win titles, I’m so proud to have this squad,” Pochettino said.
“We played one of the best teams in Europe. To win this type of game is an amazing experience for us to be more mature.”
Pochettino challenged Tottenham to finish the job in the second leg at Stamford Bridge on January 24.
“Of course it is only half-time in the tie. We have only a little advantage,” he said.
“It is going to be different in the second leg. We have to show we can beat them there and go to the final.”
It was another frustrating night for Chelsea, who recovered from a sluggish start to dominate the second half without turning their possession into goals – a familiar tale of woe for Maurizio Sarri’s men.
“We deserved more. We played better than them and were in control of the match,” Sarri insisted.
“I’m really disappointed with the result but really happy with the performance. It is one of the most important performances of the season for my team.”
Kane was making his first League Cup start in 1,204 days, dating back to 2015.
And he almost announced his return to the competition in spectacular fashion when his overhead kick from Kieran Trippier’s cross forced Kepa Arrizabalaga into action.
Tottenham were the more vibrant and cohesive force and their impactful start was rewarded with Kane’s 27th-minute opener.
Kane’s well-timed run beat the Chelsea offside trap and Kepa came hurtling off his line and clattered into the striker.
After a delay while VAR confirmed Kane was onside, Oliver awarded a spot-kick and the England captain stepped up to smash his shot past Kepa for his 20th club goal this season.
Kane’s seventh goal in his last six appearances made him Tottenham’s fourth all-time highest scorer with 160.
However, Pochettino was “unhappy” with the VAR.
“I don’t like the VAR,” Pochettino told Sky Sports. “Today we get the benefit of it but after watching the World Cup and another league like La Liga I see that nobody is happy from day one that they started to use it.”
“To get the benefit is nice but I am unhappy to win the game like this,” the Argentinian added.
“I prefer the technology but in a different way. Being clear, I am pro technology because you cannot stop evolution but we are waiting so long, it is not clear what are the rules.
“We all have to agree, the players, the coaching staff, I watch every week La Liga and nobody is happy, the big clubs and the small clubs.
“That is a good example for us. We have six months to improve the system and there is a lot of work to do.”
Chelsea went close to levelling when Marcos Alonso’s cross reached N’Golo Kante, who volleyed against the near post from an acute angle.
Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi started for the second successive game as Sarri tries to convince the 18-year-old English winger to commit to the Blues amid reports of a bid from Bayern Munich.
Hudson-Odoi, who has 18 months remaining on his current contract, showed a flash of his potential on the right flank, cutting inside for a cross that deflected off Danny Rose and had to be tipped onto the woodwork by home goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
With Alvaro Morata struggling with an injury and Olivier Giroud also not fully fit, Sarri had resumed his experiment of playing Eden Hazard as his central striker.
But Hazard, so influential on the flanks, has expressed some doubts about his suitability for the ‘false nine’ role and at times he was rendered impotent by Chelsea’s failure to get him the ball in dangerous areas.