Pedro, Kovacic, Kante 9/10 as Chelsea rallied to stun Spurs and give Sarri a big boost
LONDON -- Chelsea recovered from their Carabao Cup final heartache and eased the pressure on Maurizio Sarri, as a second-half strike from Pedro Rodriguez and a comical own goal by Kieran Trippier secured a 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
Sarri's job was potentially on the line, as Chelsea's top-four hopes dangled by a thread heading into Wednesday night's match, but victory has provided a significant boost to both. Champions League football might yet be back at Stamford Bridge next season, and the current man in the home dugout has fresh hope of surviving this season.
A few too many last-ditch tackles were required for Sarri's comfort in the first half as Tottenham threatened, and Gonzalo Higuain's lethargic, disjointed display after hitting the post early will be a concern -- particularly as he should have been relatively fresh after coming on as a substitute at Wembley.
Manager rating (out of 10)
8 -- Sarri took a potential risk in going back to his regulars for this game, but their performance was a vindication of his faith. The decision to drop Kepa Arrizabalaga could have also backfired, but instead he should emerge with his authority enhanced. This was a big, big result.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Willy Caballero, 7 -- All eyes were going to be on him as soon as Sarri's decision to drop Kepa became known, and he was solid without having much to do in the way of saves. Every time he came for a cross or corner -- long regarded as a weakness in his game -- he did so confidently.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 8 -- His leadership credentials were questioned like never before after "Kepa-Gate," and though he wasn't exactly the most vocal man on the pitch here, he certainly led by example with an aggressive, tireless performance. How his legs didn't fail him after 120 minutes on Sunday is remarkable.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 9 -- Has been Chelsea's most reliable defender for most of this season and was so again here, matching Kane in the air and on the floor. His athleticism and anticipation were also important in keeping track of Son Heung-Min, and he wasn't shy in directing the rest of his back four to the right spots.
DF David Luiz, 8 -- Made a couple of crucial blocks to deny Harry Kane and Son in the frantic start to the match and marshalled his back line very well, favouring sensible over spectacular passes and standing up to the threat of Kane as well as Spurs' midfield runners. He tends to show up for the big games.
DF Marcos Alonso, 7 -- Very fortunate to be restored to the team in light of Emerson's impressive showing at Wembley, he nevertheless rewarded his head coach's faith with his most solid performance in weeks. Very rarely exposed his team and his physical presence was useful as Spurs pressed in the second half.
MF N'Golo Kante, 9 -- His consistent brilliance, even in the more advanced role many claim he should not be playing, has become so routine that it might be easy to miss if he weren't so obviously everywhere on the pitch at once. He won the ball off Spurs players, ran through their lines and generally dominated.
MF Jorginho, 7 -- Mercifully not booed as he was when coming on as a substitute against Malmo, but the loud groans that greeted his every mistake cannot be helping his confidence. Still did a lot more good than bad for his team and might have got his first assist had Higuain managed to stay onside in the second half.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 9 -- This is the player Chelsea thought they were getting from Real Madrid last summer. His energy matched his usual tidiness on the ball as he covered the space between Hazard and Alonso brilliantly, throwing himself into tackles and getting his team on the front foot at every opportunity.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, 9 -- A frustratingly familiar night in the final third all changed for him in the 57th minute when he ducked inside Toby Alderweireld and poked the ball through the legs of Hugo Lloris. His defensive work rate never wavered and included one spectacular recovery tackle to foil Christian Eriksen in Chelsea's box.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 5 -- Moved a half-step more slowly than everyone else in Chelsea's attack, perhaps lacking a little sharpness after being a substitute in the Carabao Cup final. Unlucky to hit the post early, curled another decent shot wide and mistimed a second-half run as he raced onto an inviting Jorginho pass.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- He predictably gave Trippier all he could handle in the first half, and Tottenham's defence could never relax while he was on the pitch, though he also frustrated Sarri at times with his lack of defensive effort. Clearly feeling the effects of his Wembley exertions, Willian replaced him on the hour.
FW Willian, 7 -- Came on to provide fresh energy and defensive work rate on the left flank in place of Hazard, and it was his decision to press Trippier that helped lead to Chelsea's farcical second goal.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 7 -- Seems to have finally earned the trust of Sarri in central midfield and provided further evidence that he deserves it, using his strong frame and cool touch to steady Chelsea in the final minutes.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 -- He brought Higuain's pretty underwhelming night to a mercifully early end and even played an unexpected role in winning the game for Chelsea, flicking a goal kick on to set up the confusion between Trippier and Lloris.