Now that’s what you call a photo finish. A game that Chelsea should have put to bed ages ago threatened to spill into extra time when Bournemouth equalized right at the death. Thankfully for the Blues and the people who managed to sit through the second half, one of Conte’s substitutes restored the lead merely 75 seconds after the equalizer.
Here are some of our observations from a 2-1 victory.
#1 The Fringe
The Carabao Cup so far has been an opportunity to give the youth and fringe players some much-needed game time, and it was the same against Bournemouth. Ethan Ampadu started the game as a centre-back, which is his position in the youth setup, while Kenedy played as the left wingback. There was a start for Danny Drinkwater as well, and although he did not stink the place out, it was clear he is still coming to terms with the team’s playing style, having missed pre-season and seen his late start further disrupted by injuries. Michy Batshuayi got a chance to play up front, and despite his improved ball retention and hold-up play, it would be fair to say he did not make a lasting impression. Conte urged the Belgian to show that he is better than Hazard and Morata, if he wants to start more games. On this evidence, it might be a while, despite Morata getting himself suspended for the visit to Everton. But more on that later.
#2 A Thing Of Beauty
Chelsea took an early lead through a well-worked team goal. Michy controlled a Cahill pass and held the ball before passing it to Kenedy who was making a forward run. Kenedy produced a clever backheel and the ball found its way to Fabregas, who made it into the Bournemouth box unopposed. This drew the ‘keeper out, who was expecting Fabregas to shoot at his near-post along with his defenders, leaving Willian unmarked on the other side. A squared ball from Cesc to Willian and the ball was in the net of an open goal. A beautiful goal like that should have set the tone for the rest of the match, but unfortunately it did not.
#3 Age Is Just A Number
Did you know Ethan Ampadu is only 17 years old? Of course you did. Would you be able to pick him out on the pitch if you’d never seen him before? Of course, you wouldn’t. Had Chelsea somehow contrived to lose this match, Conte would still be delighted with the performance of the Welsh youngster. Despite receiving a yellow for ending Defoe’s night early, almost as soon as the game began, Ampadu managed to stay out of the referee’s book for 90 plus minutes after that. The calmness and maturity that we’ve come to expect from Christensen is there to see in Ampadu as well. The boy’s got a bright future ahead of him.
#4 Under Pressure
In the second half, roles were reversed and Bournemouth piled on the pressure on Chelsea. The Blues simply failed to turn up after half-time and were unrecognisable from the team that was controlling the game in the first half. With just one goal the difference, Conte had to go for broke and brought on Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata. This deprived us of the opportunity to finally see Callum Hudson-Odoi make his first senior appearance for Chelsea. The young Englishman has been in terrific form for the youth teams and certainly deserved his place in the squad. A lead of two or three goals might have given him his chance, but at Chelsea, nothing is easy. Not even holding on to a lead. And with the clock showing 90 minutes, Bournemouth equalized through Dan Gosling. Caballero’s unwanted record of having never kept a clean sheet for Chelsea in 90 minutes continued. But worse than that, extra time beckoned, and the prospect of joining Manchester United in the bin.
#5 Didn’t See That Coming
The euphoria arising from the equalizer resulted in Bournemouth losing their collective concentration and what looked like a late leveller to send the tie into extra time, simply became a consolation goal. Straight from the kickoff, Chelsea passed the ball to their right where Zappacosta sent one in towards Eden Hazard. The Belgian’s backheel found Morata who wasted no time in poking the ball under an onrushing Boruc. 2-1 and barring yet another collapse, Chelsea were through to the semi-final. But in the celebrations, Morata received a yellow for time-wasting, which means he would miss the Everton match.
Chelsea will face Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-finals, with the first leg at Stamford Bridge. But before that, it’s the small matter of a trip to Sam Allardyce’s resurgent Everton side. Conte will be the latest coach to try and avoid being out-tacticed by Big Sam.