We have been crowned FA Cup champions four times in the last seven editions of the world’s greatest cup competition. In total, we have lifted the planet’s oldest existing football competition eight times, two behind Arsenal with 10 triumphs and three behind Manchester United with 11, despite having absurdly not won the cup in the last 10 years, 11 now after their disappointing defeat to Swansea on Sunday. It is fair to say Wembley has become something of our second home as we always seem to go far in the cup. Another potential Wembley date began at the iPro Stadium with a convincing two goal victory over Premier League promotion hopefuls Derby County to progress into the fourth round.
A John Obi Mikel header to mark his 300th appearance for the club and an Oscar strike ensured a home tie against Stoke City after another Jose Mourinho masterstroke paid off.
The Portuguese pragmatist had seen enough after 53 minutes and at a similar time as he did at Southampton a few days back, he decided it was time to ring the changes. Eden Hazard joined the fray for Michael Essien while the introduction of Fernando Torres, who has an impressive record at the iPro Stadium, followed swiftly after, this time in place of Samuel Eto’o, who failed to influence proceedings. Another poor showing from the veteran Cameroonian. It was the change we needed after Derby had successfully thwarted our array of attacking talent from causing harm. With the skillful and fresh legs, we were able to move through the gears, eventually overwhelming our Championship opponents.
As Derby began to tire, gaps began to appear in the hosts’ defence with the likes of Willian, Hazard and Oscar thriving on the pacy counter-attacks we sprung. It was a much-improved Chelsea display in the second half with Mourinho’s demand for higher rates of intensity and urgency being met.
I fully expect Manchester City or Chelsea to lift the FA Cup this season, the main reason being the depth in squad and the ability to rest key players but still field a top side. Sunday was another adequate example of the advantages of a luxuriously plump squad. David Luiz unsurprisingly returned from a one-match suspension to take John Terry’s place in partenering the once-again superb Gary Cahill. Micheal Essien, who has been the subject of intense transfer rumours during this January transfer window, partenered the utility man, Mikel, in the centre of the park behind a Brazilian trio of Ramires, Oscar and Willian. Samuel Eto’o, who put in a disappointing performance, was given the nod ahead of Torres, as Jose’s striker tinkering continued.
Nonetheless, I was pleased to see Lewis Baker named on the bench and making his senior debut in the place of Oscar late on. All the same, it is alarming to see Juan Mata not feature in the match while Andre Schurrle failed to make the matchday squad along with Kevin De Bruyne and Demba Ba.
It has been a succesful season for us so far, bar the disappointment of losing to Sunderland in the League Cup quarter-final, with Mourinho guiding us with his excellent coaching skills. How can we be two points off the leader in the Premier League and rubbing shoulders with clubs with world-class, prolific strikers whilst we lack one of the described kind? The answer is Jose. Into the last-32 of the FA Cup, last-16 of the Champions League and two points of top spot in the league, our new year wishes could come true.
The Guardian, Daniel Taylor: “By the end Chelsea were toying with their opponents and the Derby County fans who would probably rather forget the indignities of their last season in the Premier League, with a record low of 11 points, were reminded how brutal it can be against this kind of refined opposition.”
The Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter: “In the competition that thrives on shocks, John Obi Mikel stunned his own fans, as well as Derby County’s, with a rare goal, marking his 300th Chelsea appearance with only his fourth ever goal for the club. “He scores when he wants,’’ chanted the jubilant 5,500 visiting fans when they recovered from the sight of Mikel putting the ball into an opponent’s net. He scores once every two seasons.”
The Independent, Kevin Garside: “Two goals in five minutes after the break, the first a glancing header by Mikel from Willian’s free-kick, the second a typically audacious effort from Oscar, dipping his shoulder and letting fly from the right side of the area, were poor reward for the possession Chelsea enjoyed.”
The Official Chelsea FC Website: “John Mikel Obi celebrated his 300th Chelsea appearance with his fourth goal for the club, which was added to by Oscar as the Blues scored twice in the second half to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup. The game in the East Midlands bore several similarities to our New Year’s Day outing at Southampton. Against Derby we had the better chances in the first half without being dominant but with Jose Mourinho having made two second-half substitutions, once we were in front, there was little doubt the game would be won and more goals were always on the cards. Ramires hit woodwork twice in the game. Next up in this competition is a home all-Premier League tie against Stoke.”