Liverpool's Diogo Jota, right, scores the winning penalty past Leicester's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel of the penalty shootout of the English League Cup quarter-final soccer match between Liverpool and Leicester City, at Anfield Stadium, in Liverpool, England, Wednesday Dec. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
LONDON — Antonio Conte will have to overcome former club Chelsea to reach the League Cup final early in his Tottenham career, and he wants to do it in one match.
The semifinals, beginning in two weeks, are still due to be over two legs despite the upsurge in coronavirus cases wiping out games and creating a fixture pile-up.
Tottenham overcame West Ham 2-1 and Chelsea beat Brentford 2-0 on Wednesday before being paired together in the last four that will see Arsenal also play Liverpool.
“If I have to decide maybe it would be to play one game and not two games, especially I repeat for the situation we are living but we have to respect the rules,” Conte said. “For sure it will be nice and good to play against Chelsea for me. I spent two amazing seasons with Chelsea (2016-18) and I enjoyed a lot and everything there, but now I am the manager of Tottenham and I am ready to give everything for this club.”
Jürgen Klopp would gladly give up home advantage to also see Liverpool not have to play two games for the semifinals in the first two weeks of 2022 given the lack of winter break and packed festive program stretching the squad.
Liverpool was taken to penalties by Leicester in Wednesday’s other quarterfinal, prevailing 5-4 in the shootout after the game ended 3-3 after 90 minutes.
“The draw has us at Arsenal, I’m fine with that, we play there and see who is better and go for it,” Klopp said. “I don’t just speak about player welfare this year, I have been speaking about it for six years or maybe longer.
“If the things I say would help more, I would say it much more often. But it doesn’t help. The only thing I do with these messages is I create headlines. They never arrive at the right places.”
The three goals at Tottenham came in a five-minute spell.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s pullback was turned into the net by Steven Bergwijn in the 29th minute. The lead only lasted until the 32rd when Eric Dier’s clearance was intercepted and the ball eventually reached West Ham forward Jarrod Bowen who, on the turn in the penalty area, switched the ball between his feet before equalizing.
But Tottenham was quickly back in front with Bergwijn dribbling past Manuel Lanzini and squaring to Lucas Moura to squeeze the shot through the crowded penalty area into the net.
A Premier League and FA Cup winner as Chelsea manager, Conte is trying to deliver Tottenham’s first trophy since winning the League Cup in 2008. The north London club lost to Manchester City in last season’s final with Ryan Mason in temporary charge following Jose Mourinho’s firing.
CHELSEA LATE BREAKTHROUGH
Thomas Tuchel already has experience of picking up a bigger trophy — the European Cup — since taking charge of Chelsea in January. Reaching the semifinals of England’s second-tier cup competition was satisfying for Tuchel given the coronavirus cases and injuries depleting his squad.
“It was a brilliant result given the circumstances,” he said.
Chelsea only took control at Brentford after N’Golo Kante was brought on for the final 15 minutes.
The World Cup winner with France was involved in the buildup before a cross from Reece James was turned into his own net by Pontus Jansson.
The win was secured in the 85th from Jorginho’s penalty after Mason Mount was tripped by goalkeeper Álvaro Fernández.
There was an immediate impact at Anfield by Leicester striker Jamie Vardy whose double made it 10 goals in 14 appearances against Liverpool.
Goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher got a touch to Vardy’s shot in the ninth minute but couldn’t keep it out. The striker sidefooted in a cross from Patson Daka four minutes later.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prevented the game running away from Liverpool by pulling one back in the 19th but James Maddison restored Leicester’s two-goal lead in the 33rd with a strike from 25 yards.
Having made 10 changes from the side that drew at Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday, Klopp turned to more experienced players in the second half — including Diogo Jota who netted in the 68th.
Leicester was preparing for a semifinal until Takumi Minamino equalized in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
But with a chance to win the shootout for Liverpool, Minamino failed to convert. After Ryan Bertrand’s penalty for Leicester was saved by Kelleher, Jota responded by hitting the target to send Liverpool through to meet Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s side beat Sunderland 5-1 on Tuesday.
By the time Cristiano Ronaldo arrives in Qatar, the Portugal star might be straddling a fine line between being fresh and simply being not sharp enough to make a telling contribution in what is likely his final World Cup.
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