Middlesbrough put up little resistance as Chelsea sauntered into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, thanks to goals from Ramires and Moses.
Both goals came in the second half: the first demonstrating a fabulous solo goal, before Chelsea showed off their team play with wonderful footwork which culminated in a Moses tap-in.
The intensity of the game rarely even reached the mid-way point let alone the peak of a classic Cup tie, but the reward Chelsea receive in facing Manchester United on March 10th will hopefully get a few pulses raised.
This was a mis-match of a tie: Chelsea were the FA Cup holders whilst Middlesbrough have lost seven of their last nine games in England’s second competition.
The positional difference was met with some confidence by Rafael Benitez, who made eight changes from the side that lost to Manchester City. Either he would be credited with rotating the squad correctly, or it could have been a big blunder in underestimating Boro.
Of the new faces to make their way into the starting eleven was youngster Nathan Ake, who was handed his full debut in front of the back four. Fringe players also got given time: Yossi Benayoun made his first start of the season for Chelsea, whilst the loyal Ferreira was given the right-back berth with Azpilicueta out. It was just Cech, Ivanovic and Ramires who survived from the morale-sapping loss on Sunday.
For all Middlesbrough’s struggles in their league, they have shown great commitment in the FA Cup competition, only losing three of their last 22 FA Cup games at the Riverside Stadium. Coupled with unpredictable Chelsea performances, it gave the home fans every right to be in fine voice from the off.
The fans did quieten down as Chelsea settled in their stride. Oscar’s lifted ball evaded Torres and Moses in Chelsea’s first good opportunity.
The former, particularly, will have been feeling the heat. His only goal this calendar year came against Brentford, with the Spaniard failing in Europe, the Premier League, and thus far the Championship. His cross-cum-shot from the edge of the box went out for a throw-in. The Spaniard then showed the pace to beat the Boro defence, only to see his shot appear more like a back-pass, trickling into Steele’s hands at snail’s pace. Perhaps League 1 is a better fit for the lost striker.
Still his team-mates continued to rally. Oscar’s shot was well charged down, whilst Middlesbrough proved they were not there just to defend, with Cech making a real meal out of Carayol’s shot.
Up stepped Ramires five minutes into the second half. The Brazilian, much maligned for rash challenges that have crept into his game of late, scored his fifth goals in 12 FA Cup appearances, compared to 11 in 84 Premier League games.
His love for the Cup will have come at a vital time for the Blues, who, out of the three possible outcomes, would not have fancied a draw. It was good that Ramires, therefore, was on hand to steer home a fine strike into the Boro goal, via a minuscule deflection off Torres’ back as he went to duck. The Spaniard will claim it, such is his desperation to record a strike.
When presented with work to do himself, he continued to fail, however, dragging his shot wide moments later, before firing wide on another separate opportunity. It was no surprise that Ray Wilkins, pre-match on Al Jazeera Sports, stated that Torres must depart Chelsea, with the former Chelsea assistant coach actually against the purchase of him. But of course, he was brutally fired in November 2010, two months before that deadline day signature of the former Liverpool man.
Benitez proudly boasted his half-decent squad on show with the introduction of Hazard, and the Belgian has a say in the second goal. His pass to Oscar was met with a sublime back-heel back into the path of the former Lille man, and once squared to Victor Moses, all the Nigerian had to do was tap in from six yards.
Marko Marin and David Luiz were given a run out as time wore on, but the fan’s discontent was still all evident. The chant of Di Matteo’s name in the 16th minute continued, the banners calling for Rafael Benitez to leave aplenty, leading the Spaniard to snap in his post-match press conference: “I will go at the end of the season, they don’t have to worry about me.”