A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home League Cup tie against Manchester United.
This midweek saw the return of this season’s League Cup as Chelsea hosted Manchester United in the 4th round at Stamford Bridge.
The 2 most successful English clubs in the Premier League era went head to head in what is both club’s least prestigious of their 4 competitions this term.
So the first key element to the match up would be how strong a line up each manager was going to opt for. And it was the away side who looked closer to their first choice line up.
Frank Lampard made 6 changes to the team that won away at Burnley on Saturday. Willy Caballero, Reece James, Marc Guehi, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Michy Batshuayi were all given a start.
Meanwhile Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named a strong side with Brandon Williams the only unfamiliar youngster to start. Big money signings Harry Maguire, Wan-Bissaka and Fred were included alongside Scott McTominay, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford.
It proved to be a fairly turgid first half in which both teams showed little ambition and effectively cancelled each other out. Sadly the biggest moment was the decision to award The Red Devils a penalty when Daniel James fell backwards when apparently being fouled by Marcos Alonso from behind.
The Blues improved somewhat in the second half but were still not the team who had registered 7 consecutive victories in their previous 7 matches.
However, on the hour, a rare long kick out from the goalkeeper was flicked on by Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian striker then beat Maguire for pace, comfortably created space past Marcus Rojo and smashed his shot home from 25 yards out.
The Blues were starting to edge the balance of play and as the tie progressed with the scores tied, Frank introduced Pedro and Mason Mount in an effort to win the tie inside 90 minutes.
However, Marcus Rashford has other ideas. After conceding from a wonder strike from Jay Rodriguez at Burnley on Saturday, Chelsea suffered at the hands of another breathtaking shot. Rashford’s 30 yard free kick had the perfect combination of pace, accuracy and dip to beat Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The Blues came close a couple of times to getting an equaliser but were unable to prevent the visitors from advancing to the next round. The Red Devils probably slightly edged the tie, but their play was unadventurous with precious little midfield creation. They won mostly because of the individual talent of Rashford.
The loss may not be the worst outcome for The Blues. Including international matches, a number of players have been playing back to back, twice a week since August and, for the first time this season, there were a few signs of lethargy in some of Chelsea’s play.
With progress looking extremely likely in the Champions League, Frank will need to be wary later on in the season of player fatigue, especially among the younger players who will not be used to the regular spells of intense, top level football.
However, it will limit the opportunities for Billy Gilmour and Marc Guehi, who both very much looked the part within the first team. Gilmour played in a more advanced role in the second half, where he was able to regularly find space between the visitor’s defence and midfield.
Meanwhile Guehi was imperious in defence and is clearly very close behind Fikayo Tomori in his footballing education. The signs continue to look encouraging for The Blues and the future.
Along with Reece James, this match showed that the next wave of youth products are already waiting in the wings. Add to that the list of more established first team players who are still absent due to injuries and the evidence is that the club, despite the current transfer embargo, are building a quality squad with an enviable depth.
The Red Devils may have edged the tie and just about deserved to progress to the next round, but in the post match analysis it is The Blues who are in a far superior situation moving forward.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue