Antonio Conte’s pride at starting a crucial week by reaching the FA Cup final was tempered by frustration at Chelsea having to return to action a day before title rivals – and defeated semi-finalists – Tottenham.
The country’s best sides took a break from their thrilling duel for the Premier League crown on Saturday, heading to Wembley for a semi-final that lived up to the hype.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men began to dream of a first FA Cup final since 1991 after Harry Kane and then Dele Alli cancelled out goals from Willian, only for Spurs to suffer yet more Wembley heartache.
Game-changing substitute Eden Hazard fired Chelsea ahead before Nemanja Matic thrilled the blue hordes with a thunderbolt that wrapped up a memorable 4-2 semi-final triumph.
“To reach in my first season the final of this competition is a great achievement, but not only for me but my players, for the club, for my staff, for the supporters,” head coach Conte said.
“I think we deserve this after a very tough game against a really strong team.
“To see this type of game, I think that England must be proud to have this type of football, with this intensity, with this type of football, with this level football.
“I think today was great for football because this semi-final I saw two very strong teams and a really good game, not only for Chelsea but also for Tottenham.”
Conte wants Chelsea to use the FA Cup win to “exploit the momentum”, having seen their lead at the top of the Premier League cut to four points by in-form Spurs.
Both teams return to league action in midweek, with Conte explaining the decision to start Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench was with Tuesday’s crunch match against Southampton in mind.
A trip to Everton quickly follows in a “crucial” week that the Italian approaches bemused by the fixture schedulers, given Spurs have an extra day of rest before facing Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
“In this situation it is not easy to understand,” he said. “You have to play one day less against Southampton that rests for 10 days.
“Instead, Tottenham has to play on Wednesday – one day more to rest against Crystal Palace that didn’t play today, they have to play tomorrow.
“It is very difficult for me to understand this dynamic because in this part of the season you must try to have balance, to understand the situation, and to try to put both teams in the same condition to fight and then to do their best.”
Conte said they had to “accept this decision” regarding fixtures – an attitude shared by Tottenham counterpart Pochettino after Spurs’ seventh straight FA Cup semi-final loss.
The Argentinian was proud more than disappointed after the defeat, speaking glowingly about his side’s efforts having downplayed the potential knock-on effect in the title race.
“I feel proud because we played very well,” he said. “We played with personality and character, and we dominate a team that played well.
“We forced them to play deeper and play on the counter-attack and in transition, but that is football, too.
“We congratulate them and now we try to fight for the Premier League, to try to catch them. That is our objective.”
Pochettino was unruffled by defeat and the manner of it, but was understandably emotional when reflecting on the shock death of Ugo Ehiogu.
Spurs’ under-23 coach died ahead of the semi-final at the age of 44 – a loss that has shocked the footballing world.
“It was Friday, it was a big shock for us all,” Pochettino said. “We were on the training ground.
“It’s a big impact because he was a person that was very close to us and in that moment you realise the real life.
“It is true we are fighting to play and win games, but it is all relative after this type of situation.
“One more time, I want to send all of my condolence to the family and friends from all the Tottenham family. It is a big loss for us.”