Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri hopes victory on penalties over Tottenham Hotspur to reach the EFL Cup final can prove a turning point in his first season in charge.
Sarri had questioned the mental strength of his squad and demanded star forward Eden Hazard delivered more on his abundant potential in the wake of a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday and the Italian got the response he desired against an injury-ravaged Spurs.
First-half goals from N’Golo Kante and Hazard on Thursday handed Chelsea a 2-1 win on the night to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit and the hosts prevailed 4-2 in the shoot-out at Stamford Bridge to set up a final with holders Manchester City on Feb. 24.
“I think that in the last three or four matches we had a problem. One problem was the motivation and the other problem was the players stopped having fun on the pitch. Now with the performance and the result we can find enthusiasm again,” Sarri said.
Chelsea’s new No. 9 Gonzalo Higuain was presented to the fans before kickoff, but his loan move from Juventus was not completed in time for him to feature.
Sarri has been criticized for persisting with Hazard in a centerforward position of late and the decision to move the Belgian back to his preferred role on the left of a front three with Olivier Giroud handed a rare start as the focal point of the attack paid dividends.
However, Sarri again preferred to focus on Chelsea’s mentality rather than his change of tactics.
“He played a fantastic, wonderful match,” Sarri said about Hazard’s performance. “I think in this match we played with another mind, another motivation, another determination. I think his qualities are more important than the position.”
However, Hazard was less enthused as he responded to Sarri’s claims before the game that he is not a leader on the field.
“I don’t care. I just play my football,” Hazard told Sky Sports. “It doesn’t matter what the manager said. I just focus on my football and want to do my best for this team.”
Spurs’ spirit could not be questioned as they battled to stay in the tie, despite the absence of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min.
“To lose in that way can happen, but we fought, were brave, and with all the circumstances, all the players did well,” Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino said.
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