Chelsea dispatched Wolverhampton Wanderers, albeit not easily, in the FA Cup Fifth Round to set up a quarter-final date with Manchester United.
Late goals by Pedro and Diego Costa saw off a determined Wolves side who more than gave the Premier League leaders a run for their money, but the Blues prevailed and will welcome back ex-manager Jose Mourinho in three week’s time, knowing a win there will set up Antonio Conte’s first date with Wembley.
Still, the job needed doing in the West Midlands first in front of a 30,000-strong crowd, the largest Wolves attendance for more than three decades, who kept Chelsea waiting until the 64th minute before breaking the deadlock, and the 89th before securing the win, much to Conte’s relief.
With no mid-week European travels for Antonio Conte to contend with this season, the FA Cup can be kept high in the Italian’s agenda, as demonstrated by a formidable starting line-up which boasted the likes of Costa, Hazard, Fabregas and Terry. Whilst there was a flurry of youth in Ake and Chalobah, one must feel for Batshuayi, who has been given precious little game-time for a £33 million buy last summer.
But despite all the talk about who would be spearheading Chelsea’s attack, the first notable attack came at Chelsea’s rear end. Zouma’s clearance landed at the feet of former Chelsea youth player George Saville, who made perfect contact with the ball but, with his weaker left foot, lacked the accuracy as the ball crashed back off the post with Begovic well beaten. It was a glorious chance, and the post was still shaking for minutes afterwards.
The last time these sides met was in 2012 in the League Cup where Chelsea dished up a 6-0 lesson, but tonight’s game was anything but a walk-over and the frenetic start — Weimann had a shot moments later also — should have served as enough warning for the visitors, who started to get in the mood soon after.
Fabregas pinged a delicious ball over the top of the Wolves defence and Willian controlled well, but his attempted lob of the goalkeeper was not to fool Ikeme who got a hand on it.
The same man Willian nearly caught himself in a spot of bother when helping out his wing-back Victor Moses at the other end, brushing aside Weimann a little clumsily, if legitimately, in the eyes of Jonathan Moss.
Costa — Wolves’ Helder Costa — then had the game’s next opening, testing the Chelsea back-line and Begovic, in what was a very tough opening 20 minutes for the Blues with the hosts well on top.
Wolves really needed to convert their chances, none more so than from an excellent Dougherty cross, but Bodvarsson was inaccurate in his heading.
Costa had a half-chance on the stroke of half-time — on the volley with his back to goal — but the Blues needed to step things up in the second half to avoid an FA Cup upset, and it was not going to come through long-range Zouma drives which landed closer to Row Z than the back of the net.
Thankfully, it was another one of the Chelsea back-line who would get Chelsea up and running: Pedro. The position of left wing-back almost does the magic Spaniard a disservice, such is his attacking prowess and ability to leave defenders flat-footed, but despite a more reserved role this evening partnered next to Ake, the 29-year-old took it upon himself to break the deadlock.
Fabregas floated a ball over to Costa, whose control was clean but took him further away from goal down the right wing. A short cut-back to Hazard opened up play for Willian, who spotted Pedro cutting in from the left-wing. The Brazilian’s cross-field ball was inch-perfect and Pedro, now in and around the penalty spot, evaded all defenders and headed home expertly to preserve his record of having scored in every FA Cup round so far.
Moments before that it looked like Chelsea would rue Costa hitting the side netting when presented with a glorious opportunity, but Pedro made amends for his compatriot.
Conte was getting nervy and Azpilicueta and Kante came on to shore up the Chelsea defence as the game entered the last 20 minutes, but in the last one minute Chelsea’s lead would double.
The ball was well worked by Fabregas and Kante and, after fortuitously bouncing off a Wolves defender into the path of Costa, the Spaniard took it in his stride to sweep home.
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Man of the Match
CESC FABREGAS: The magician is not getting much game time in Conte’s settled — and winning — formula with a Matic and Kante pairing in the middle of the park, but when he does get his opportunity boy does the Spaniard look at ease. Effortless passing and reading of the game and yet still only a periphery player just shows the embarrassment of talent Chelsea possess, but Fabregas is always a man Conte can rely on. 7/10
Conte was relieved: “A very difficult game but we all knew this. We had many chances but this is the FA Cup. The results this afternoon show there is no easy games. Don’t forget, I changed seven players. It is good to have a good answer from the players who are not playing a lot. We showed great commitment to fight, to win and to continue in this competition.”
Lambert was proud of his Championship side: “I could not ask for any more. The game plan was unbelievably performed and we were up against a world-class side. Not just class, world-class. They have won Champion Leagues, so many honours, but we gave it a good go.”