Chelsea spank five past hapless Tottenham in an FA Cup semi-final that will be remembered for referee Martin Atkinson's moment of madness
Early arrivals were treated to Dom Fifield's piece on Roberto Di Matteo. And I don't see why you can't still read it, if you're so inclined.
Late Thursday morning in Cobham and Chelsea's training ground is all a hubbub. Players are returning from a welcome few days off, the procession of snazzy sports cars and pristine four-wheel drives purring into the car park interrupted only by Ross Turnbull free-wheeling in on a bicycle. Uefa's doping team loiter in reception, urine sample bottles presumably at the ready, while a group of wide-eyed corporate guests spill out unhelpfully from the media theatre. And yet, as he saunters through the palaver, the former midfielder turned interim first-team coach cum caretaker manager hardly bats an eyelid.
It takes a lot to fluster Roberto Di Matteo, which, at present, is just as well. The Italian is almost six weeks into an unexpected stint in charge of the club he served as a player for six years, his elevation necessitated by the abrupt dismissal of André Villas-Boas, and, every day, he confronts challenges that might reduce others to gibbering wrecks. Occupying his mind late last week was the case for his defence as he waited on news of Ashley Cole's ankle, Ryan Bertrand's calf, John Terry's ribs and Branislav Ivanovic's ultimately doomed appeal against a violent conduct charge. Nagging away was the schedule into which Chelsea are about to plunge: Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday night, Arsenal at the Emirates and Barcelona home and away, all in a frantic 10-day period. Others might consider the calendar as terrifying as it is unforgiving, though the stand-in merely smiles and describes the clutter ahead as "quite a unique little period".
Yet Di Matteo is not impervious to the pressure. There is a theory, often aired, that he had little to lose once Roman Abramovich deemed this campaign to have veered out of Villas-Boas's control. Chelsea were, by the Italian's own admission, playing catch-up in the Premier League and, even as he transferred his clipboards from the crammed coaches' office into the managerial suite, were well adrift of Napoli in their Champions League last-16 tie. Logic suggested the 41-year-old could work without fear of the sack, a privilege denied each permanent incumbent since Guus Hiddink's spell as the oligarch's Red Adair in 2009, though Di Matteo disagrees. "I feel responsible," he says, having taken his customary moment to weigh up a response. "That's the way my personality is. I have a responsibility, and all of us need to finish the season successfully: the management, the players, the club, everybody. So it's not a no-lose situation. Not in any way.
Hello world! It's only the FA Cup semi-final! Some pre-match pointers: Tottenham have won 50% of their 18 previous semi-finals, and Chelsea have won 52.6% of the 19 they have played! Tottenham have won 50% of their previous Cup ties against Chelsea, and so have Chelsea! Tottenham have won 50% of the two points the teams have shared in the league this season, and so have Chelsea (0-0 and 1-1, since you ask)! So, it's looking like a draw then. If you want a pre-match pointer which separates the teams, there's always this: "Tottenham" would score you 14 points in a game of Scrabble, whereas Chelsea would net you just 12. Though to be fair neither would be allowed.
We must get a result today – so there'll be extra time and penalties if required. We've already spotted signs that the players are expecting this to go the distance: to judge by Ashley Cole's choice of luggage he expects to be at Wembley for at least a couple of days.
Here are the teams!
Tottenham: Cudicini, Walker, Gallas, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Modric, Parker, Bale, Adebayor, Van der Vaart. Subs: Friedel, Giovani, Defoe, Rose, Livermore, Sandro, Nelsen.
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Terry, Luiz, Cole, Ramires, Lampard, Mikel, Kalou, Drogba, Mata. Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Torres, Malouda, Meireles, Sturridge, Cahill.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Didier Drogba starts for Chelsea in preference to Fernando Torres. Tottenham's Ledley King passes his traditional fitness test, while Carlo Cudicini – who has started every FA Cup tie – keeps his place in goal.
The players are in the tunnel. Action imminent.
Talking about the controversial kick-off time on ITV1, Roy Keane just said the main thing was to "focus on the game". On first hearing, though, it sounded very much like he wanted us to "fook Sunday game".
Before kick-off, a minute's silence in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough in 1989, with Livorno's Piermario Morosini also mentioned.
The silence does not seem to be entirely well respected. When the referee blows his whistle to bring the "silence" to the end, the respectful majority boo heartily.
1 min: Peeeeeeep! Chelsea get us started!
2 min: For me, the presence of both Lennon and Bale on the pitch is absolutely key. If they stay on their wings – in other words, if Bale hasn't been told to do mess about more centrally – I think Spurs have every chance of winning this.
4 mins: The traditional slightly slow start, as the players nervously play themselves into the game. Meanwhile, a Scrabble-related query from Joe. "Why wouldnt Chelsea be allowed? It's seven letters, and it's a verb. Chelsea: to buy success despite having no history." Joe appears to be a Spurs fan.
6 mins: Those actually at Wembley report that it was a group of Chelsea fans who failed to respect the minute's silence in memory of the Hillsborough dead. Bizarre, really. What were they thinking? On second thoughts, don't answer that.
9 mins: Chelsea have started considerably better, without doing much of interest in or around Tottenham's penalty area as yet. Drogba smacks a 40-yard free-kick over the bar. "Nothing to do with anything," writes Ryan Dunne, "but (former Glorious Glasgow Rangers captain) Davie Weir's selection of his ideal dinner party guests, featured in today's Sun, is truly one of the most entertainingly off-beat selections I've read. The guests are: Sherlock Holmes, Jock Stein, Beyonce and ... Lee McCulloch ('I considered Frank Sinatra, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and many others of that ilk. In the end I've gone for my old Rangers team pal Lee McCulloch')" That is a fine line-up.
11 mins: A lovely Modric pass releases Bale down the left, Lennon collects his overhit cross on the right side of the penalty area, and his attempt to set up Van der Vaart is deflected back to the keeper.
14 mins: Cole gets down the left, and his ball is very well cleared by King, somehow getting in front of Drogba. The ball bounces back to Cole, whose pull-back rolls across the penalty area to a Spurs player.
15 mins: Spurs race down the other end, where Van der Vaart works the ball onto his left foot 20 yards out and skies his shot high over the bar.
17 mins: Didier Drogba brings down Aaron Lennon in a totally insignificant area and get the game's first booking. "You say that Tottenham and Chelsea would garner 14 and 12 Scrabble points respectively," point-of-informations Brad McMillan, "but if played on a standard board, both are sufficiently long that they couldn't be played without landing on at least one bonus square. Just thought I'd point that out." Cheers Brad.
18 mins: Bale really stretches his legs for the first time. He absolutely hares past Bosingwa and is well on his way to doing the same to David Luiz when he sadly runs out of pitch. Goal kick.
19 mins: Scott Parker bursts into the penalty area and goes down as two defenders turn him into a Chelsea sandwich. Nothing doing.
21 mins: "Dear Chelsea 'fans'," writes Nick Smith. "If you can't fill your own half of the ground for a cup semi in a venue in your own city, then please don't boo a minute's silence for 96 fans of a club that can." Actually it was someone else's city, in Liverpool's case, but I take your point.
23 mins: Adebayor picks up the ball on the half-way line and Spurs look to set up a break. He passes the ball straight into John Terry's legs, and the chance is gone.
25 mins: Lovely corner kick from Van der Vaart, which looks likely to set up a goal or even fly in all by itself when it is smarly headed away, apparently by Kalou. "What do you make of those pundits that claim winning or going on a long run in a cup can be used as a springboard in the League?" asks Junaid Gill. "I think there's nothing to it, considering Liverpool and the Carling Cup as an example. Roundabout way of asking if winning or losing today will have an effect on Chelsea or Tottenham in the League." I'm not sure that one Cup match can have much of an effect, but I don't see how having this and two matches against Barcelona in the next few weeks can possibly be good news for Chelsea's top four chances.
27 mins: CHANCE! Walker gives the ball away to Kalou, who carries the ball towards the penalty area and then slides a lovely ball into Mata, bursting into the box. It looks a certain goal, but the ball is clearly just an inch too far ahead of the Spaniard, who pokes it straight to Cudicini.
29 mins: Kyle Walker has just been labelled "the least aptly-named player in the Premier League", because he does a lot of running. Surely there are more aptly-named players than that. Er, Luke Young? Anyone?
31 mins: Kalou crosses the ball from the left, and King once again beats Drogba to the ball to clear it for a corner.
34 mins: GREAT CHANCE TO MAKE A GREAT CHANCE! Adebayor has the ball, 30-odd yards from goal, and Van der Vaart runs in behind him, totally unmarked. A half-decent pass there would have created a great chance. Didn't happen.
35 mins: Lennon has the ball on the left-hand side of Chelsea's penalty area. He could have gone over Luiz's leg, and could have gone down as Luiz put an arm across his chest to restrain him, but didn't, and then messed up his cross. If Spurs had Ashley Young in their team they'd have a penalty there.
36 mins: GOAL-LINE CLEARANCE The ball works its way from left to right, where Lennon crosses to Van der Vaart, whose effort beats Cech but hits the knee of John Terry on the line.
38 mins: A cross from the right wing seems destined to reach Kalou on the left, only for Kyle Walker to slide in to touch the ball off his toes. Again, excellent defending. "If Walker is the least aptly named player, I'd suggest Lampard is the most aptly named," writes Matt Dony. "He lamps the ball, 'ard. Often. I'm pretty sure I'd manage to score a few goals if I had as many potshots as Lamps."
40 mins: SPURS HIT THE POST! Van der Vaart curls in a cross with his left foot, from the right wing. It's perfect for Adebayor, who inexplicably fails to get anything on it, and the ball bounces onto the far post and away.
GOAL! Tottenham 0 Chelsea 1 (Drogba, 43 mins) WHAT A GOAL! Tottenham have totally dominated these last 10 minutes or so, but then John Terry thumps a long ball from defence, Drogba controls it with his back to goal and William Gallas right behind him, flicks it onto his left foot and then absolutely thunders a shot into the top corner. Out of nothing, that was, and totally brilliant.
45 mins: Just the one added minute here.
45+1 mins: Peeeeeeep! That's half-time!
Half-time: The second half of that half was excellent stuff, mostly dominated by Tottenham. There's no reason for them not to feel optimistic of recovering from the blow of falling behind, but what a blow. Gallas will be feeling a little bit sheepish at the moment, but that was absolutely classic Drogba. 34 years young, and available on a free transfer in a few months.
Aptly-named player update: Peter Crouch winning more votes than anyone else by a factor of about 25:1. "I'm trying to decide whether Peter Crouch is the most or least aptly named premier league footballer," ponders Tanay Padhi. "At that height surely he has to bend under a lot of doorways? And while I'm at it, Dean Whitehead does have a white head."
46 mins: Peeeeeep! Tottenham get the second half under way.
48 mins: SAVE! Good move from Chelsea ends with Drogba mis-controlling the ball in the penalty area and the ball rolling straight to Mata, whose low shot is well saved by Cudicini. "As a football fan in America, I allow myself the luxury of supporting two teams, and it's Hearts and Spurs," writes Richard Waner. "Today has been a good day. Pretty confident going into the second half. Drogba's goal was stunning, but Spurs still look like they have a couple in them this afternoon." You've got to score while you're on top, though, that's what Roy Keane told me.
CONTROVERSIAL GOAL! Tottenham 0 Chelsea 2 (Martin Atkinson, 49 mins) The corner comes in, and Cudicini saves brilliantly again, from Luiz. The ball loops up to Mata, beyond the far post, who shoots low into a huddle of players on the line, and the ball is cleared. It doesn't cross the line. It doesn't even nearly cross the line. The linesman didn't think it crossed the line. The referee thinks it's a good idea to award it himself. Incredible decision, for which he should be forced to self-flagellate for all eternity.
51 mins: Nobody got a better view of that incident than Mata himself, and he wheeled away to celebrate immediately. Worth having a go, as it transpired, but that's cheating just as much as any amount of Ashley Young dives.
GOAL! Tottenham 1 Chelsea 2 (Bale, 56 mins) More good luck for Chelsea! Parker plays Adebayor though, he touches the ball round Cech and goes down. If no player was supporting him, it's a penalty and Cech is sent off. As it is, Bale is supporting him and touches the loose ball into the empty net. That's a lucky break for the Blues, I think.
58 mins: David Luiz hasn't got back up since the goal was scored, and is going to come off. Gary Cahill will replace him, and we should have a few minutes of stoppage time at the end of this.
61 mins: John Atherton reports that the BBC's minute-by-minute coverage of this match said Mata "found the back of the net". Chortle. But John, what were you doing there?
63 mins: "You'll often see a ref playing advantage and then when the ball goes dead, going back to book the player who committed the original foul," writes Nathan Jones and about a million others, "so why not allow the goal and send off Cech?" Apparently the Spurs bench was expecting as much, but the red card would have been shown for denying a goalscoring opportunity, which Cech most evidently didn't do.
65 mins: Strangely, Tottenham's goal has prefaced the slowest period in the game since the opening quarter-hour.
69 mins: CHANCE! Kalou prods the ball through for Drogba, but King slides in to clear. And for the record, Bing Gilmerton informs me that the BBC MBM had a very full and accurate description of Chelsea's second goal after all. Shame.
70 mins: Chelsea ping the ball around the Tottenham penalty area for a while without actually creating a chance. Bale then pegs it down the other end with the ball and wins a corner.
72 mins: The first corner is headed behind by Drogba for another. That one is curled in by Van der Vaart and King rises to meet it first. The ball would surely have flown in had it not clipped Kalou's head and flown wide.
75 mins: Tottenham take off Van der Vaart, replacing him with Jermain Defoe. "Why the surprise that Martin Atkinson gave a goal that clearly wasn't over the line?" asks Dan Butler. "This is the same guy that thought Balotelli trying to remove Alex Song's leg during a match wasn't even a free-kick."
75 mins: CHANCE! Chelsea chip a free-kick into Tottenham's penalty area and suddenly Drogba is running clean through. With the goalkeeper approaching, though, he seems to have second thoughts about the whole kicking-the-ball thing and the chance is lost.
77 mins: Bale pegs it down the left again, and Cahill does excellently to dispossess him just as things got really serious. "As I'm sure a million others will tell you, the referee CANNOT play advantage and then send off the offending player," says Rich Lovie. "If he adjudges that a foul merits a red card, he must stop play. By allowing Bale to finish, Atkinson negated the ability to issue a red card."
GOAL! Tottenham 1 Chelsea 3 (Ramires, 77 mins) Assou-Ekotto totally misses Ramires's run from the right wing, Mata does not and the Spaniard's pass is turned into goal. No arguments there.
80 mins: Gallas is booked for quite cynically bringing down Drogba. There's an air of game-overness descending on proceedings now.
AND IT'S GAME OVER NOW! GOAL! Tottenham 1 Chelsea 4 (Lampard, 81 mins) From the free-kick, Lampard's optimistic 35-yarder flicks off Scott Parker at the end of the wall and flies into the top corner.
84 mins: Drogba, whose brilliant goal will be the highlight of this match, is replaced by Fernando Torres. And it looks like Lampard's shot didn't catch Parker after all, in which case Cudicini should perhaps have a few words with himself. Excellent shot, mind.
87 mins: Here's a weird thing: last season Stoke and Manchester City were already scheduled to be playing each other (in the league) on the day of the FA Cup final. This season Chelsea and Liverpool are scheduled to be playing each other (in the league) on the day of the FA Cup final. What are the chances?
88 mins: CHANCE! Malouda cuts in from the left and has a totally unmarked Torres to aim for at the far post, but he doesn't aim for him, at least not for ages, and when he does it's with a weird and rubbish loopy cross that floats straight out of play. I hope that the emphatic nature of this scoreline now does not take detract from the humiliation and vitriol that should deservedly be poured on Martin Atkinson not just over the next 24 hours but for the remainder of his career.
90 mins: "'Arry is auditioning well for England," writes Gary Naylor, as Adebayor is booked for a foul on Cahill. "Here he is going out in the semi-final through a combination of bad officiating, setting up a team to be too attacking and ultimately losing to a stronger, more talented XI."
90+1 mins: We're into the first of five added minutes. Cahill is now limping, which added to the Luiz injury and the timing of this match means that Chelsea now have some excellent excuses for their inevitably humbling at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday.
90+2 mins: An ugly ending to this match, as Mikel says or does something that gets Parker totally infuriated. Thankfully he's restrained by team-mates and thus it's only a booking. Mikel is also booked. We're later shown a replay of Mikel kicking the back of Parker's knee while on the ground, something a bit like Beckham on Simeone at the 1998 World Cup.
90+4 mins: Parker is immediately replaced by Sandro.
GOAL! Tottenham 1 Chelsea 5 (Malouda, 90+4 mins) Another assist for Mata, who chips a lovely return pass to Malouda who runs into the penalty area and slides the ball through Cudicini's legs.
90+6 mins: IT'S ALL OVER! Chelsea qualify for yet another FA Cup final!
Final thoughts: Future readers of Rothman's, or Wikipedia, or whatever, will see this scoreline and assume that Spurs were on the receiving end of a genuine pasting. They'd be wrong. This was a fake pasting. A counterfeit thumping. It was the result not of Chelsea's immense superiority, but of a referee's idiocy, and a goalkeeper's good fortune, and a subsequent tactical change that backfired badly.
Martin Atkinson, after the Balotelli/Song incident last week – if he'd failed to see that incident it would have been embarrassing, but he then had to admit that he had seen it after all, and just made a totally inexplicable decision – should not referee another match this season. He should be put in the corner of a room, wearing a dunce's cap, and told to think about what he's done, until May if necessary.
Even accepting that incident, how Spurs must wish that Bale had not been at hand to turn the ball in and apparently bring them back into the match a few minutes later. A penalty, and 35 minutes against 10 men, would have made them considerably more likely victors.
Then, Redknapp brought the impressive Van der Vaart off, and brought on Defoe. The result was Chelsea running wild in the final 20 minutes against an understaffed midfield. If he had to take off a midfielder, surely the disappointing Modric would have been a better choice. And then, once the score went to 3-1, and given what had happened up to then, they just gave up.
Congratulations to Chelsea. They took advantage of all these things impressively. But anyone who watched this game will surely always consider this a compromised victory.
Honest footballer shock: "I thought it hit me and stayed out," says John Terry of Chelsea's second goal. "We've been calling for goalline technology for a long time. Hopefully the powers that be make the right decision."