The 18th minute of Tottenham’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg clash against Chelsea proved decisive to their hopes of reaching the final for the second successive season.
Facing an uphill battle heading into the return game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following a 2-0 defeat in SW6 a week earlier, the first goal on the night was always going to be crucial to the final result.
An early goal for Antonio Conte’s men and it was game on, a goal for Chelsea and the tie was pretty much over as a contest.
Having gone close to the opener 11 minutes in with Romelu Lukaku holding off Ben Davies with ease to force Pierluigi Gollini into a low save with his legs, Spurs’ Italian shot-stopper suffered a moment to forget not long after as the Blues took the lead through Antonio Rudiger.
The summer signing decided to come off his line to collect Mason Mount’s inswinging corner but in the end got nowhere near it as the ball struck Rudiger on the back and went in off the crossbar.
Ben Davies’ reaction said it all as he tracked back to the far post.
It was a huge mistake from the goalkeeper and it only resulted in even more questions about Conte’s selection decision.
Eyebrows were certainly raised when the Tottenham team news dropped at 6.45pm, with Gollini, Matt Doherty, Harry Winks and Giovani Lo Celso all handed starts.
Having started Lloris in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and the quarter-final clash at home to West Ham, many were mystified by his call to rotate his goalkeeper in such an important fixture for the club.
Explaining to Sky Sports ahead of the game that it was simply down to the club facing some crucial games over the next week, Conte was asked again about his selection in his post-match press conference.
“Before my arrival at Tottenham, Pierluigi has always played in Carabao and the Conference League,” he explained. “I think when you’re in a team like Tottenham, it’s important also to give chances to the keeper because the keeper, Pierluigi, showed to be reliable.
“Then we have to play three games in seven days against Arsenal, Leicester and Chelsea again. I think that he deserved to have this chance and to play an important game.”
When asked if he understands the frustration from supporters about Lloris’ omission, he added: “But I don’t know about this. I repeat: I made this decision and I think that Gollini played a good game.
“In the first game we lost 2-0, today we lost only 1-0. I think that we have to try to think about situations that are much more important than this. Believe me.”
Gollini’s start for Tottenham against Chelsea was his tenth for the club since his summer loan move from Atalanta, with all of them coming in cup competition.
Doing well with the Serie A team to catch the eye of Fabio Paratici as the managing director of football brought in some fresh competition for Lloris in the summer, the 26-year-old hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory when he has played.
Palming Kamaldeen Sulemana’s effort right into the path of Gaetan Laborde for Rennes’ second goal against Tottenham in their Europa Conference League group match in September, Gollini should have done much better for Maximilian Wittek’s winner for Vitesse in the same competition as the player’s volley was a couple of yards away from his left-hand post.
Gollini also had a couple of iffy moments with the ball at his feet in their European qualifier against Pacos de Ferreira, notably also looking a tad shaky in a similar situation against Chelsea on Wednesday evening.
The ex-Aston Villa man ideally could do with a consistent run in the Spurs team to rediscover his top form but that just isn’t going to be possible unless Lloris picks up an injury.
Tottenham do have a big decision to make over Gollini in the summer, with the club having the option to purchase him on a permanent deal.
However, it is believed that the player has a clause in his contract that will see his loan deal become permanent once he has made a specific amount of appearances for the club.
While the hope is that Lloris will pen a new contract at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to tie him down for the next couple of seasons, Spurs do still need to find his long-term replacement at some point as the Frenchman is not getting any younger and he’s now entering the final few years of his glittering career.
Gollini doesn’t appear to be the long-term solution going on his performances so far for Tottenham and that leaves Paratici with a key call to make ahead of next season.
Maybe not a priority position given some of the areas in the team that need looking at first, it is certainly an area of the pitch that Tottenham need to try and solve for good.