A Blue Up North reviews our FA Cup victory away at Leicester City.
This weekend’s FA Cup quarter final matches saw Chelsea travel away to Leicester City in the late Sunday match. With Spurs, Manchester United and Southampton already winning through to this season’s semi finals, could The Blues reach a second consecutive FA Cup semi final?
The hosts have been in fine form recently including a run of 8 unbeaten matches at home with their 2 main stars Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both back to their imperious best. The Foxes were also desperate to reach their first FA Cup semi final since 1982 after losing in their previous 3 quarter final ties.
Manager Claude Puel was able to call upon his strongest starting line up and was surely confident that his side had a great chance to knock out a Chelsea side who have struggled to gain the results recently that some of their play has deserved. In the build up to the match both squads were in Spain, but while The Blues were outplaying but losing to Barcelona at Camp Nou, The Foxes were enjoying some warm weather training (although Iceland would’ve been more appropriate for the conditions that awaited both sides).
Antonio Conte only had David Luiz and Ross Barkley missing, but despite the Italian’s desire to win this trophy he made 3 changes to the side that started against Barcelona on Wednesday. Willy Caballero continued as Chelsea’s cup competition goalkeeper, Alvaro Morata replaced Olivier Giroud in attack and Tiemoue Bakayoko returned to the starting XI after recovering from injury in place of Cesc Fabregas in central midfield.
The Italian will have thought long and hard about his options. Morata did score in the league match at The King Power earlier in the season and the Spaniard could use his pace against Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire. While the bigger stature and better defensive nature of Bakayoko would be more useful against Leicester’s strong midfield and protect The Blues back 3 more than the more attack minded Fabregas.
The match itself proved to be as tight as the pre predictions were. As 5th in the league took on 8th place there was no quarter given. Chances were at a premium and Caballero was more than a match for everything that the hosts could aim at his goal. But it was the defences who were on top. Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger were both at their best, focused and flawless.
However it was young Andreas Christensen who caught the eye the most. After an impressive first half of the season, the Dane has been guilty of some costly mistakes recently. These have clearly knocked his self belief and confidence as, while his displays have been good in 2018, there are not up to the calm, commanding performances he was showing earlier in the season. However, after some excellent tackles and interceptions early on, Christensen seemed to get his mojo back. He was suddenly always in the right place and making the right decision. It was an outstanding performance and great to see his self belief return. It was a shame a late injury prevented him finishing the full match.
Bakayoko did well at times but looked generally lost. His misjudging a header then being booked for the foul he committed when trying to win the ball back just before half time summed up his play at times. Conte replaced him with Cesc Fabregas at half time and the change in class was massive. While the Spanish midfielder continues to work on his defensive duties, his vision and passing range are incredible.
Willian’s energy and pace regularly caused problems for the home defence but Eden Hazard had what was a quieter, less influential match for him while being closely marked by both Simpson and Ndidi. Morata struggled once again against big strong centre backs but he did get the last laugh with his well taken goal.
While Marcos Alonso was being effective everywhere on the left flank, Victor Moses had another indifferent match. Defensively he is as good as a genuine right back but, when going forward, is incapable of getting past anyone nor able to provide a decent cross.
But there was one player who stood out above all the others. N’Golo Kante was outstanding against some of the greatest players in the world at Barcelona and continued that form against his old teammates. He was everywhere in defence, winning the ball back with regular ease. But it is his surging runs and sensible but effective forward passing that is why so many Blues fans believe that it is Chelsea who currently have the best player in the world. Add to that a delightful assist for the winning goal and you have as close to a perfect performance as humanly possible. The incredible thing was that he looked ready to go again even at the end of 2 hours of gruelling football.
Claude Puel and the home fans may point to individual mistakes which assisted both of Chelsea’s goals but the real truth in the victory will delight all Blues fans and especially Antonio Conte. The extra depth in character and determination to win flowed through the side. Built upon a strong defence there was a real belief in the side that they could win through.
That is even more remarkable after the physically and mentally draining experience of the loss in Barcelona, and after defeats at both Manchester clubs have caused The Blues to drop out of the top 4. These were traits shown by previous Chelsea sides and is why the club have a European Cup in it’s museum.
With 8 league matches left to regain a top 4 place and an FA Cup semi final against Southampton to come, let’s hope this side continue to show that winning toughness.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue