LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur have made huge strides since losing the 2015 League Cup final to Chelsea but another Wembley loss to their London rivals on Saturday proved they are still not the finished article.
Mauricio Pochettino, who took Tottenham to that final in his first season in charge, has turned a young English-spined side into Premier League title contenders yet the suspicion remains they still lack the killer touch required to win trophies.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have it spades.
Chelsea were outplayed for long periods but struck at the vital moments to claim a 4-2 victory that kept alive their hopes of repeating the double they achieved under Conte’s fellow Italian Carlo Ancelotti in 2010.
Tottenham, who twice equalised Willian strikes through Harry Kane and Dele Alli, looked the more likely winners at 2-2 but Chelsea had the luxury of introducing Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas off the bench and it proved decisive.
Hazard fired home after Fabregas’s corner was cleared to him before Nemanja Matic thumped home Chelsea’s fourth.
A seventh successive FA Cup semi-final defeat sent the Tottenham fans home with a familiar empty feeling, although the club could still be on the verge of something special.
With six games of the season remaining, starting with an away trip to Crystal Palace on Wednesday, Spurs are four points behind Chelsea and still in with a title shot.
Pochettino must pick his team up quickly, however, and he said he rejected the notion that Spurs are becoming the nearly men of English football.
“It’s my first semi-final in the Cup I can’t change the past,” he told reporters when reminded of Tottenham’s poor record in semi-finals which includes a 5-1 defeat by Chelsea in 2012.
”The past is the past. We need to build the present to have a better future. If you are a Spurs supporter you feel very disappointed. But I think the fans know the project.
“I feel proud because to fight in that level against Chelsea is fantastic. Two years ago it was difficult to arrive in that level. Now it’s a reality. Now we have to be clever and build the team for the next years.”
Pochettino is now thinking about Crystal Palace where Tottenham will be chasing an eighth successive league victory to keep the heat on Chelsea.
”If we play like we did today you can’t be worried because we gave out best and football didn’t pay us what we deserved today,“ he said. ”But I understand that is football.
“We played much better than them today but it’s true they were clinical.”
Editing by Ed Osmond