Chelsea one, Stoke nil is a score-line which refuses to tell the full story. You would be forgiven for assuming it was a close, tight encounter, but that was not the case. The narrow score-line came as a consequence of our profusion in front of goal as we squandered many promising openings. However, a touch of class from Oscar, who scored a spectacular free-kick and produced a commendable all-round display, was enough to book a fifth round tie with Manchester City as our love affair with the FA Cup continued.
In what was a fairly commodious victory, but nervy towards the end, an astounding free-kick by Oscar was enough to seal our progression into the last 16 of the world’s oldest club competition, but it should have been more.
We were twice denied by the woodwork on either side of the interval, with Oscar coming close towards the conclusion of the first half while Andre Schurrle saw his fierce strike smash against the post. Frank Lampard failed to make contact with Hazard’s cross in front of goal during the opening 45 and David Luiz’s piledriver of a free-kick was thwarted by Asmir Begovic, who kept the Potters in contention, only a few of the Bosnian’s fine antics between the sticks.
After Juan Mata departed for destination Old Trafford, we would be grieving if we did not have a player of Oscar’s calibre in his position. Although the Spaniard will be missed around Stamford Bridge, having helped us to the FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League whilst being a fantastic man, when you have a player like Oscar in your ranks, you won’t be hurting for too long. The Brazilian was excellent in midfield today, dictating the play and was involved in everything attacking-minded we did. His work ethic is what has endeared him to Jose Mourinho, and once again he justified Jose’s faith in him with his tireless defensive duties.
Another midfielder who produced an admirable performance was Nemanja Matic. The former Benfica man, joining Ramires and David Luiz in our rank of former Benfica men, departed the Bridge as a make-weight for the arrival of Luiz in 2011 and was making his first start since re-signing, costing us £21m. However, I’ve always considered defensive midfield as an area we need to strengthen in. The signature of Marco Van Ginkel in the summer from Vitesse raised my hopes as the Dutchman fitted the bill. A ball-playing, mobile player who would sit in front of our defenders and also cover a lot of ground was required. With Ginkel ruled out for the season, Matic’s signing made complete sense and today proved the qualities the Serb will give us. He mopped up any loose balls, covered a considerable amount of ground and was assured and ice-cool in possession. His passing was sheer quality, with Mourinho singing his praises in his post-match press conference.
“Matic did very well, he was very comfortable, stole lots of balls and his passing was quality. He’s very comfortable on the ball, his left foot is sweet and he makes things simple, which lets the team fly.”
With Mourinho declaring the FA Cup is a competition he is eager to win, our Portuguese pragmatist fielded a strong side with Eden Hazard and Oscar both starting. With one eye on the visit of our London rivals West Ham on Wednesday night, Jose made a few changes, with Lampard returning to the starting line-up while Matic, Luiz and Schurrle were preferred to Ramires, John Terry and Willian respectively, but it did not effect the quality that our eleven possessed. Following the final whistle, I became aware of the fact that we had completed the signing of Mohamed Salah from FC Basel, increasing my sense of gratification. We have signed a young, talented winger who would add a considerable amount to our tender side. If you’re an inverted winger, Jose is the man to play under, with Hazard’s huge development and improvement a prototype of the point. With our new Egyptian number 15 still at a young age, only 21, his style of play, with is mostly based around his pace and low centre of gravity, can be easily tailored and adjusted to suit Mourinho, as was the case with our Belgian Hazard.
A professional victory, secured in typical Mourinho fashion, we can look ahead to a fifth round tie with Manchester City at the Etihad. It’ll be our second game at the Etihad, where no team has left with a result, in 15 days with a immense encounter in the Premier League next Monday to anticipate. It’ll test our team and show just how good we are. Until then, it’s West Ham on Wednesday.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High! And farewell, Juan.
The Guardian, Dominic Fifield: “In the end Chelsea’s progress into the FA Cup fifth round was secured at a stroll, the dismissal of Stoke City merely serving to remind that, even after a month of relative upheaval, this squad will still ease into the second half of the campaign in rude health. Very few teams can boast such strength in depth even after the sale of a World Cup winner for £37.1m. Juan Mata was the subject of one small banner held up by supporters in the west stand thanking him for two and a half years of service but, if truth be told, not overly missed. Without him, and with Michael Essien to join Milan and Kevin De Bruyne now at Wolfsburg, the hosts had rejoiced in the continued excellence of Oscar and Eden Hazard, in confirmation of Mohamed Salah’s £12m arrival from Basel, and in the leggy purpose of Nemanja Matic in central midfield.”
The Daily Telegraph, Ian Winrow: “Chelsea quickly put Juan Mata’s departure to Manchester United, moving comfortably into an FA Cup fifth-round tie (against Manchester City) thanks to an outstanding first-half free-kick from Oscar. Oscar’s emergence as Jose Mourinho’s preferred choice for the central attacking midfield role was the major factor in Mata’s fall down the Stamford Bridge pecking order and ultimately his exit from the club and the Brazilian offered a clear demonstration of his worth with his goal.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “A brilliant free-kick from Oscar in the first half was enough to send us through to the fifth round of the FA Cup, as we recorded a seventh consecutive win in all competitions. A strong Chelsea performance probably merited more goals, with Oscar and Andre Schurrle hitting woodwork either side of the break. Frank Lampard, going clear as our second-highest appearance-maker in this competition, also went close on three separate occasions. Stoke nearly levelled soon after Oscar’s fabulous opener but Stephen Ireland could only find the side-netting from close range. It was the closest they would come on an afternoon when Nemanja Matic made his full Chelsea debut, the Serbian impressing in midfield with his aerial power and tidiness in possession. We face Manchester City away in the next round, due to be played the weekend of the 15/16 February.”