A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s FA Cup home tie against Sheffield Wednesday.
A ridiculously late kick off this Sunday saw Chelsea host Sheffield Wednesday in the 4th round of this season’s FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. After finally seeing off bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi final on Thursday evening, The Blues now face a side sitting mid table in England’s second tier.
The midweek match was full of passion, energy, commitment and atmosphere, but this was more about player rotation and doing a professional job as far as Chelsea were concerned. After all, The Blues have a very impressive home record in the competition with only 1 defeat in their previous 37 FA Cup ties at The Bridge and, on paper at least, they should comfortably maintain this run.
Maurizio Sarri made 8 changes to his starting team, with Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Mateo Kovacic retaining their places, with the latter moving in to the deeper lying midfield position in place of Jorginho.
However the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Callum Hudson-Odoi who had handed in a transfer request just 24 earlier. The young Englishman is desperate for more playing time and sees Germany’s Bundesliga as his best hope for more opportunities.
This match also saw Chelsea’s newest signing Gonzalo Higuain make his first appearance for The Blues. The Argentinian striker had a phenomenally successful season with Sarri at Napoli, scoring 36 league goals in 2015/16, but has struggled on loan at AC Milan this season.
There was a feisty edge to the start of the match, with the visitors determined to pressurise their illustrious hosts. Former Chelsea academy player Sam Hutchinson was particularly influential for The Owls in midfield.
However, with the home side’s superior ability, the match had a feeling of ending in a Chelsea win. But with 23 minutes played and the match still scoreless, referee Andre Marriner awarded the visitors a penalty. Was the opportunity set for a potential upset? Unfortunately for The Owls, the VAR system being used in this season’s FA Cup, but bizarrely only at Premier League grounds. The replays showed that Ethan Ampadu had cleanly won the ball in his challenge on Joey Pelupessy and the spot kick was not taken.
Then, as a very cruel twist of fate against Wednesday, just 2 minutes later Hutchinson clipped Cesar Azpilicueta and The Blues were correctly awarded their own penalty. Willian calmly slotted it away and from then on the visitors had an uphill struggle.
However, a combination of Wednesday’s battling and Chelsea’s inabilities to finish off a match after taking the lead kept the tie in the balance for quite a while.
It took til the 64th minute before the match was finally settled. And it was Hudson-Odoi who finally increased The Blues’s lead. The youngster showed composure and confidence as he finally broke free and finished. Up until this moment he had struggled against a compact and hard working Wednesday defence. Bayern Munich would love to sign the player who can score like that, but his inability to make a difference for the first 63 minutes and against a Championship side is why he is nowhere near the finished article as yet.
It was his Brazilian teammate, Willian who stole the show. The Owls were unable to match his pace and movement, leading to the Chelsea winger having one of his best performances of the season. So it was fitting that he should drill home the third goal after some great play from substitute Olivier Giroud.
Victory for the holders was richly deserved and very welcome. Chelsea remain in all 4 competitions and one of the main keys to winning a trophy or 2 will be the ability of Sarri’s squad players to continue their progress against weaker opponents.
The manager is almost over reliant on just a small core of players for his Premier League matches and so the likes of Christensen, Emerson, Ampadu, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi and Giroud will only have limited chances despite the club and manager dependant on them to offer rests to more key players.
So it is thanks to them that we are through to the 5th round where 2 of the 3 clear favourites to win the Cup will meet at Stamford Bridge.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue