22 de Abril de 2018

Blues to fight for FA Cup glory at Wembley (2-0)

Second-half goals from strikers Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata sent the Blues through to a second consecutive FA Cup final as we produced an impressive display at Wembley to overcome Southampton and set up a showdown with Manchester United next month.

 

Antonio Conte’s side dominated the first half and went close inside the opening few minutes of the game through the magnificent Eden Hazard and Willian, who struck the bar, but we were unable to make our dominance count.
The opening goal arrived inside the first minute of the second half when Giroud, teed up by Hazard, did brilliantly to keep his footing under pressure from four defenders and fire us in front, and Morata put the game out of the Saints’ reach when he came off the bench to score with his first touch, meeting a Cesar Azpilicueta cross and heading home eight minutes from time.

There were four changes to the side which won at Burnley on Thursday, with Willy Caballerocoming back in to maintain his 100 per cent appearance record in this season’s FA Cup.

The back three remained unchanged and in midfield Cesc Fabregas replaced Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Emerson Palmieri made his second straight start with Marcos Alonso unavailable, while Hazard and Willian were also restored to the starting line-up, Pedro and Alvaro Morata dropping down to the bench. Giroud, scorer of a brace against Southampton in the league last Saturday, was tasked with leading the line for the Blues.

The Chelsea players were wearing black armbands in memory of Roy Bentley, the captain and star player in our championship-winning 1955 team, who sadly passed away on Friday, and it was Conte’s side who threatened first after just four minutes when Hazard exchanged passes with Giroud and fizzed a brilliant strike inches over the bar from around 25 yards out. Alex McCarthy in the Southampton goal didn’t get near it and moments later he was beaten again, this time by Willian, at the end of a devastating Chelsea counter attack, but a superb left-footed curler by the Brazilian, who had been teed up by Hazard, came back off the bar.

It had been a bright start by the Blues and Willian went close again from a free-kick after N’Golo Kante had been brought down by Jan Bednarek, with his strike dropping just over the bar.

As the 25-minute mark approached Southampton were yet to threaten, but that changed when Mario Lemina drove at the Chelsea defence and went for goal, forcing Caballero into a smart stop low down to his left-hand-side.

The Blues were controlling the game, with Hazard and Willian causing Southampton problems every time they picked the ball up.

Azpilicueta glanced a header across the face of goal, with nobody on hand to apply the vital touch, as we attempted to gain the advantage, and seven minutes before the break it was Giroud’s chance to go close, the Frenchman volleying just wide at the second time of asking from aFabregas delivery.

When we were in possession Southampton were defending with everybody, aside from Shane Long, behind the ball, but from an attacking perspective Mark Hughes’s side had offered very little, with Caballero a spectator for the majority of the opening 45 minutes.

It was goalless as the two teams headed back inside for the break.

Having been unable to make the most of our superiority prior to half-time, less than a minute after the restart we took a deserved lead through a goal of the highest quality.

Fabregas clipped a free-kick into penalty area where it was brilliantly brought down by Hazard, who in turn flicked it into the path of Giroud. The Frenchman still had plenty to do, but he displayed fantastic skill and balance to stay on his feet under pressure and get the better of four Southampton defenders, before rounding McCarthy and poking the ball home.

It was Giroud’s fourth goal in a Chelsea shirt and a strike which could barely have been timed any better.
Both Oriol Romeu, our former midfielder, and Lemina were booked in quick succession for the Saints, and their best chance of the game so far arrived in the middle of those two cautions, as Long, who had been put clean through, took too heavy a touch as he rounded Caballero, allowing the ball to run out of play.

Conte made his first change of the afternoon just after the hour as Bakayoko replaced Willian, the substitute tucking in to form a midfield three alongside Fabregas and Kante, with Hazardpartnering Giroud in attack.
It was at the same time that Hughes made a double change for the Saints, with Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic coming on for Long and Pierre-Emile Hojberg respectively.

With 19 minutes left on the clock Caballero made an impressive stop to thwart Redmond and moments later, at the other end, McCarthy followed suit by displaying fantastic reflexes to tip a Hazard drive over the bar.

The Belgian had been in irresistible form throughout and after produced a stunning back-heeled cross which Southampton managed to clear, he then whipped a teasing ball across the face of goal which Bednarek struck against his team-mate Maya Yoshida, the deflection almost catching out McCarthy.

With the clock ticking down, Conte made a couple more changes as Pedro replaced Fabregas, before Morata was introduced for Giroud, who received a fantastic ovation from the Chelsea supporters inside Wembley.

For Morata, it was the perfect entrance, as the Spanish striker extended our lead with his first touch of the ball, all but securing our passage through to the final.

As has so often been the case this season, he had his compatriot Azpilicueta to thank, the defender standing his cross up to the far post where Morata arrived to steer his header beyond McCarthy and into the back of the net.

Southampton’s response was almost immediate as Charlie Austin struck the foot of the post, and from our next attack Morata, having been teed up by Hazard, saw his close-range effort cleared off the line.

There was still time for McCarthy to deny Morata with an impressive save but the damage had already been done and it's the Blues, who have now won our last three games, returning to Wembley on Saturday 19 May for a repeat of the 2007 final against Man United.

What an occasion it promises to be!

 

- Match stats:

Chelsea (3-4-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas (Pedro 75), Emerson; Willian (Bakayoko 62), Giroud (Morata 79), Hazard.

Scorer Giroud 46, Morata 82

Southampton (3-5-2): McCarthy; Hoedt, Yoshida, Bednarek (Gabbiadini 77); Cedric, Romeu, Hojbjerg (Tadic 62), Lemina, Bertrand (c); Austin, Long (Redmond 62).

Booked Romeu 50, Lemina 54, Hoedt 64
Referee Martin Atkinson
Crowd 73, 416

 

 


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