In what was set to be a bumper clash under the lights at Stamford Bridge, it would be the home side with all the pressure placed squarely upon their shoulders. A shock 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough in the first leg two weeks prior meant that Chelsea had it all to do if they harboured any hopes of making the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley on February 25th.
CHE: Petrovic; Chilwell, Colwill, Silva, Disasi; Caicedo, Fernandez; Sterling, Palmer, Mudryk; Broja
MID: Glover; Engel, van den Berg, Fry, Clarke; Hackney, Howson, Barlaser, Crooks; Rogers, Forss
As the game kicked off, it was clear that Chelsea were looking to be very aggressive from the start, with a more attacking lineup bolstered by the return of Ben Chilwell at left-back to the starting eleven. However, it would be the away side that would settle into the match the quickest, looking more assured and comfortable on the ball than their West London opponents.
The home side’s fortunes would turn in the 14th minute with the opening goal of the match; a goal that drew the sides level on aggregate in the tie. The marauding Chilwell was influential in the build-up, as the Englishman won the ball in his own half and burst into midfield before playing a defence-splitting pass into the path of Raheem Sterling.
The Blues winger showed all his composure and quality to take an extra touch in the area and play the ball across to his strike partner Armando Broja to seemingly slot home with ease. However, it was not the Albanian who had the decisive touch, but the outstretched leg of Jonny Howson who had attempted to make a last-ditch tackle only to inadvertently turn the ball into his own net.
The turnaround for Chelsea would be complete only a short while later through Enzo Fernandez. The Argentine was quickest off the mark in the 29th minute to lash home a loose ball in the penalty area to give the Blues the lead in the match and the tie as a whole.Embed from Getty Images
The home side were very much in the ascendency and Boro’s initial confidence had diminished due to them overplaying and making simple mistakes. Chelsea were able to press more precisely as the half wore on and their opponent’s passing became more wayward.
Their high press paid off with a sucker-punch third goal from Axel Disasi. The Frenchman won the ball with a strong challenge and carried on his charge into the penalty area, being picked out expertly by Sterling to sweep home his second Chelsea goal since signing in the summer and put the match to bed in the first half, with only 36 minutes played.
Cole Palmer would also find himself on the scoresheet in the final moments of the opening 45, with a smart left-footed finish that saw Tom Glover picking the ball out of his net for the fourth time in the match. A sloppy pass back from Daniel Barlaser summed up the mood for the Middlesbrough fans that had made the journey south: utter despondency. The Championship side had certainly been the architects of their own downfall.Embed from Getty Images
The second half was all about damage limitation for Middlesbrough and Chelsea certainly eased off from their first-half intensity. Further goals from Cole Palmer and Noni Madueke, who had been brought on at half-time for the underwhelming Mykhalo Mudryk, further highlighted the Blues’ dominance. Conor Gallagher, a player rumoured to be up for sale in the January window, again showed his quality with two assists in a brief cameo appearance.
There would be a consolation goal scored for the visitors through Morgan Rogers in the 88th minute, a curling effort that found the bottom corner of Petrovic’s goal – though it would be just a single blemish on an otherwise perfect evening for Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Chelsea fans were also able to witness the debut of Leo Castledine, an 18-year-old midfielder who has sparkled for the Under-21s, along with more minutes for Carney Chukwuemeka, returning to first-team action after a lengthy spell on the injury table.
Michael Carrick will have been made to feel the gulf in class between the Premier League and the Championship following this match, and will certainly have a lot to learn from his side’s tactical naivety when playing out from the back against such skilled opposition.
For Pochettino, a first appearance in a cup final as Chelsea boss awaits at the end of February, and in less than 24 hours, his opponent for that match will be decided as Liverpool takes on Fulham at Craven Cottage, with the victor securing their place at Wembley.