Chelsea took control of their League Cup semi-final against Tottenham as Romelu Lukaku returned from exile in Wednesday’s 2-0 first leg win over their London rivals.
Thomas Tuchel’s side are within touching distance of a first League Cup final appearance since 2019 after brushing aside Tottenham at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz put Chelsea ahead with a deflected strike before Ben Davies’s farcical own goal increased their lead before half-time.
Although Chelsea were unable to completely kill off the tie, they will make the short trip to Tottenham for the second leg on January 12 as firm favourites to reach the final against Liverpool or Arsenal.
Liverpool’s semi-final first leg, scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed until next week after a significant coronavirus outbreak among Jurgen Klopp’s squad.
Chelsea’s victory was their first in three games, building on their spirited fightback from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Liverpool on Sunday.
With Lukaku back in the fold, albeit once again looking far from his best, Tuchel will hope he has navigated a storm that threatened to derail Chelsea’s season.
Lukaku, Chelsea’s club record £97.5 million ($132 million) signing from Inter Milan last year, was dropped for the Liverpool game after he gave an interview that featured criticism of the way he was being used by Tuchel.
But Tuchel said he held “calm” talks with the Belgium striker on Monday and restored him to the team to face Tottenham after he issued an apology.
Ironically, Lukaku’s return came against Tottenham boss Antonio Conte, who got the best out of him during their Serie A-winning spell together at Inter.
Conte was back at Chelsea for the first time since being sacked in 2018 despite winning the Premier League and FA Cup in his two-year reign.
The Italian claimed earlier this season that Chelsea had yet to work out how to get the best out of Lukaku, but he has plenty of work to do with his own team on the evidence of Tottenham’s spluttering display.
Lukaku was greeted with surprisingly little venom from the Chelsea fans, a reception perhaps helped by their side making the perfect start in the fifth minute.
Japhet Tanganga played Emerson Royal into trouble deep inside the Tottenham half and Marcos Alonso pounced to steal possession.
Alonso slipped his pass behind the out of position Tanganga to Havertz, whose close-range shot deflected in off Davinson Sanchez.
Havertz nearly followed his first Chelsea goal since November 6 with another moments later.
Once again, Tottenham were guilty of calamitous defending as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s attempted clearance cannoned off Oliver Skipp to Havertz, whose hurried shot lacked the power to beat Hugo Lloris.
Although Chelsea were without Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante after they tested positive for the coronavirus, the European champions dominated from start to finish.
Lukaku had a role in Chelsea’s second goal in the 34th minute as his persistence drew a foul from Sanchez.
Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick should have been easily dealt with by Tanganga, but the hapless centre-back headed it straight at Davies, who had no chance of getting out of the way as it rebounded off his shoulder into the net.
It was a shambolic goal to concede and Lukaku should have punished more woeful defending with a header that glanced wide after Sanchez made little effort to challenge for Ziyech’s cross.
Unable to muster a single shot in the first half, Tottenham finally forced a save from Kepa Arrizabalaga through Harry Kane’s free-kick soon after the interval.
Tottenham were still in disarray at the back and Timo Werner, on for the injured Havertz at half-time, twice went close to increasing Chelsea’s advantage.
Werner whipped a low strike narrowly wide, then saw his lob blocked by Lloris as the Blues had to settle for a two-goal lead.