Friday 16th February 2018, Stamford Bridge – The weekend kicked off with an FA Cup fifth round tie: Chelsea vs Hull City, Premier League top four contenders v Championship strugglers.
Hull were twenty-first of the twenty-four teams in the Sky Bet Championship as at the start of play, a full thirty-seven places below Chelsea, who were fourth in the EPL.
However the visitors were in slightly better form than their hosts, albeit against weaker opposition. They’d won two and drawn one of their last five games in all competitions, including a 2 – 1 win over Nottingham Forest in the previous round of the FA Cup.
Chelsea were going through a pretty difficult patch, at least for a club their size. They’d lost to Arsenal, Bournemouth and Watford in their last five games. They did beat Newcastle United 3 – 0 in the FA Cup, and West Brom by the same scoreline in the league, but it was still a bad run of results for them.
In his pre-match conference Antonio Conte spoke about the importance of facing the next two weeks of fixtures “in the right way”. He suited his actions to his words – Ethan Ampadu started at center half, and fellow youngsters Kyle Scott, Trevoh Chalobah, Dujon Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi were on the bench for this game. New signing Emerson Palmieri also made his first start for Chelsea.
Nigel Adkins also rotated heavily, making seven changes to the team that beat Forest 2 – 0 in their previous league game. Top scorer Jarrod Bowen was out injured, amongst numerous other players.
Chelsea loanees Michael Hector, Ola Aina and Fikayo Tomori were ineligible to play against their parent club, but Michael Dawson and Kamil Grosicki were fit again – they were in the starting eleven and on the bench respectively for tonight’s game.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Caballero 9, Zappacosta 6.5, Rudiger 7, Ampadu 7.5, Cahill 7, Emerson 8, Drinkwater 8, Fabregas 8.5 (Scott 5.5), Pedro 8 (Hudson-Odoi 6), Willian 9, Giroud 8.5 (Morata 5.5)
Subs Eduardo, Moses, Scott, Chalobah, Sterling, Hudson-Odoi, Morata
Marshall 7.5, Meyler 4, Dawson 5.5, Stewart 4, Irvine 6.5 (Batty NR), Diomande 5, Evandro 5, Clark 6, Wilson 7.5 (Toral 6), MacDonald 6.5, Dicko 5 (Campbell 5)
Subs McGregor, Toral, Batty, Grosicki, Clackstone, Campbell, Keane
Little Willy Style
Chelsea didn’t waste time getting into the game; Willian opened the scoring less than two minutes after kick-off. Kevin Stewart had attempted a back pass but Olivier Giroud intercepted and Willian took possession.
Willian carried the ball forward, dribbling past Stewart, who tried his best to recover the ball, and then unleashing a left-footed curler just inside the far post for 1 – 0.
Willian almost turned provider a few minutes later, with a dazzling trick pass to get the ball past Nouha Dicko and Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson, but goalkeeper David Marshall made a smart save at his near post to keep Cesc Fabregas’s shot out.
After some good work from Wilson on a Hull corner, Stewart sent in a lob from midfield for Jackson Irvine, who was unmarked, but Antonio Rudiger raced in to pressure him and the midfielder’s header went high and wide.
Pedro put a brilliant ball in over the top for Olivier Giroud, but he volleyed the ball just over the bar. A few minutes later Fabregas slipped in a through ball for Pedro; the keeper was beaten, but Michael Dawson got a slight touch to prevent Pedro from getting on the end of the pass.
Ampadu almost got caught in possession on the goal-line, but he managed to get the ball away to Willy Caballero.
Just a little under half an hour into the game, Pedro made it two. Danny Drinkwater kept hold of possession under heavy pressure from Irvine, and passed up the pitch to Giroud, who immediately sent the ball back to team “quarterback” Fabregas.
Fabregas spotted a run from Pedro and hit it first time and over the top, to put his speedy Spanish teammate one on one with the goalkeeper. Pedro took one touch to stabilize, shaped as if to shoot with his right foot, then passed the ball into the net with his left for 2 – 0.
Willy In Form
Five minutes after the second goal, Willian attempted a one touch backpass to Giroud in midfield, but Stewart was in place to cut it out. Giroud managed to retrieve the ball though and handed off to Willian about thirty yards out.
There didn’t seem to be any danger, the defenders had him covered – but Willian got to the edge of the D, fended off Stewart… and whipped a low curling shot beyond the keeper and in off the post for 3 – 0. Willian was in blazing form this game. Chelsea fans will be desperately hoping he is fit and selected against Barcelona in four days’ time.
The First of Many Hopefully
Chelsea pressed up even more aggressively after the third goal. Gary Cahill got close enough to attempt a shot, but Dawson blocked it. The ball rebounded to Cahill and he put it wide for Emerson, who nutmegged David Meyler and got to the by-line.
Dawson rushed in to slide tackle, but Emerson cut back the ball to Giroud in the six-yard box, and the French striker hooked the ball in past Marshall for 4 – 0. It was Giroud’s first goal for his new club.
Big Willy Style
The game was more or less done now and Conte took the opportunity to play the youth. Hudson-Odoi came on for Pedro at half time, and Kyle Scott made his senior debut on sixty-two minutes.
Chelsea sat back more in the second half to conserve their energy, and Hull City had much better opportunities than in the first.
Angus MacDonald got ahead of Giroud to connect with a long free kick from midfield, unfortunately he headed across goal rather than at goal – otherwise he might have scored – and Ampadu cleared.
Fabregas tripped up Wilson in the penalty box on the resulting corner, and the referee correctly pointed to the spot. David Meyler stepped up to take it, but Willy Caballero had made so many lightning saves in the games he’d played this season, you somehow expected him to pull off another miracle.
Big Willy did not disappoint, guessing the perfect direction and height to cover Meyler’s shot, and even holding Irvine’s header on the rebound. It was his second penalty save of the season. Caballero is a pretty amazing goalkeeper, and Chelsea are lucky to have him.
Still Got It
Chelsea proved today they’ve still got it – if “it” happens to be the ability to play champagne football against a pretty poor team going through difficult circumstances – but in entertainment terms this was a great game to watch, and a win is a win is a win.
It was definitely a good result to take into the most difficult part of the season – with four games against three of the strongest teams in Europe: Barcelona at the Bridge, then two visits to Manchester to play United and City, then a London derby v Crystal Palace, then Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Interesting times.
Final Score Chelsea 4 – 0 Hull City
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Guardian
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