The Guardian, Kevin McCarra: “Chelsea entered the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a purposefulness that almost suggested the defence of the trophy was their priority. The victors were probably more intent on recovering confidence after consecutive defeats in other competitions. It was, in a sense, to their advantage that Stoke City should demand the best of them.”
The Times, Frank Praverman: “John Terry scored one and set up the other to send Chelsea through to the last four of the FA Cup. The deposed England captain has rarely been out of the spotlight over the past month due to alleagtions about his private life. But today he was hitting the headlines for all the right reasons.”
Official Chelsea FC Website: “Fresh from England action at Wembley, Frank Lampard and John Terry made sure they will be returning there soon by firing Chelsea into the semi-final of the FA Cup.”
A routine win. How good those three words sound after a few weeks of newspaper speculation, dodgy defensive performances and a couple of losses on the trot. Abramovich may desire more exciting football at the Bridge, but I doubt he had in mind the recent six goal affair with Citeh that came about as a result of Chelsea mistakes. A home game against Stoke was just what the doctor ordered: a game against a team that is technically inferior yet clearly coming for a battle, a game that demanded full commitment from us in order to progress through to the semi-finals of the cup. Thankfully we got just the sort of professional performance required, and as a result I could enjoy my Sunday afternoon at the pub without really having to contemplate a loss throughout the ninety minutes.
A portion of that tranquillity was down to the cider, but mostly it came about as a result of a strong starting eleven: Hilario, Ferreira, Terry, Alex, Ivanovic, Malouda, Mikel, Lampard, Kalou, Drogba, Anelka. I was glad to see Kalou start again, as he has played well recently, and also to see Ferreira at left-back (just because I like the bloke).
The first half
The first half started in a cagey fashion. A few games ago Chelsea seemed to start every home game going for the jugular, but it appeared that a more measured approach was the order of the day. Part of that is down to the opposition I guess, as you know where the threat is coming from with Stoke. So Chelsea tried to keep the ball and control the tempo of the game without giving away any set plays, and for the opening spell we where on top without much happening apart from a routine stop from Anelka’s shot. I think Delap had four or five throw-ins in the first half, and generally we coped with them well. The only real scare was when we only half cleared his throw-in after fifteen minutes and the ball dropped to Huth on the edge of the area; his volley managed to pass the milieu of players in the box but thankfully Mikel was on the line to clear it away.
And that was the extent of Stoke’s ambition really. The philosophy of only trying to score on a throw-in is not one Mr Wenger subscribes to, but it has worked pretty well for Stoke so far and as a result I can’t really knock them for it. Fortunately filling your team with a bunch of weedy teenagers is not a philosophy Chelsea subscribes to, so unlike Arsenal we managed to control and contain Stoke without having to get out of first gear very often. Even though they weren’t threatening the goal the pesky Potters continued to harass us in defence, and a tiny bit of frustration may have begun to build up in the team after a unsatisfactory couple of weeks. This manifested itself in a speculative effort from Ferreira and an even more hopeful shot from Drogba from all of 35 yards.
The goal always looked like coming though, and after 35 minutes a Malouda corner dropped to Terry in the box, a delightful lay off to Lampard followed, and Super Frank thumped the ball past Sorenson from the edge of the area. The shot took a fortuitous deflection on the way, perhaps preventing Sorenson making the save, but Chelsea’s lead was deserved. We continued to control the game until the break and Drogba nearly made it two after he got his foot to a good cross from Ferreira in injury time at the end of the first half. This time the keeper managed to get down low to make the save.
The second half
The second half continued in the same vein, with Chelsea probing and Stoke more focused on preventing the second rather than getting an equaliser. Lampard nearly got his brace after just a couple of minutes as the ball again dropped to his feet on the edge of the area, but this time he blasted his shot over the bar. I’m not sure if it’s just nostalgia but it seems to me that in past seasons he got fractionally more of these types of chances on target – in the England game for instance you would have fancied him to put away one of the two chances based on his past performance. I guess it speaks volumes about the guy that he is not, by his standards, having the best of seasons and yet he is still one of the best midfielders in the country. I should make it clear I’m not having a pop at the guy, he is still awesome, but I think he has got a small bit of room for improvement to hit his peak.
Chelsea continued to press for the second and started getting a few more free kicks as a result. In the first half the ref seemed reluctant to make any decisions in Chelsea’s favour, but a couple more came in the second period as Kalou and Drogba attracted a few challenges as Stoke struggled to regain the ball. Anelka was also having a good game in attack, and he unleashed a ferocious long range effort that skidded wide of the goal around the hour mark.
Another good aspect of our game today was that the confidence didn’t begin to drain as we continued to look for a second. We didn’t really have to look for too long and our domination paid off after a corner was won following some good play that found Drogba being pushed wide in the box: he centred it to Anelka whose header from close range was well blocked by Wilkinson. From the resulting corner Lampard floated the cross in and Terry rose well to firmly plant the ball in the back of the net. His celebration was to roll up his sleeve and show the captain’s armband on his bare arm. Quite what he meant by this is up to debate, but for me it was an affirmation that he would continue to put in the kind of performances that over the last few seasons have shown him to be the leader amongst our team of captains. And maybe it contained a bit of a ‘Fuck you’ to the boo-boys as well.
Ten minutes from time we could have made it three-nil, catching Stoke on the break after they had finally decided to try and get a goal themselves. As Anelka ran with the ball to the edge of the area he had Drogba to his left and Lampard to his right, about as good a break as you could wish for, but a slightly under hit pass combined with a less than perfect first touch meant Lampard ended up with the ball too wide, and his attempted cross to the back post was easily collected by the Stoke ‘keeper. By that time though the game was already wrapped up.
A semi-final against Villa is possibly the toughest draw we could have got after this win, but a good performance from Chelsea was the important thing to take away after a shaky few weeks. Terry and Alex where strong at the back, both full-backs had a good (if unspectacular) game, and in fact I could just go on to list the whole team as everyone put in a good performance. Malouda deserves a mention as he had a welcome return to form, and Anelka also did well. I often criticise ‘Le Sulk’ as he sometime appears in the wrong areas of the pitch and ends up slowing down our momentum, but today he had the balance right and at times I almost felt a bit sorry for some of the Stoke players who must wonder who they are supposed to mark when our front six interchange as freely as they did today.
Overall the game put me in a good mood so I don’t really feel like criticising too much, but I suppose I should really mention that the ref was a bit poor today, unwilling to give us any decisions including what looked like a penalty on Malouda after he was shoved over in the box. On another day it may have cost us, but it didn’t today so I guess we can save the good refereeing shows for more important games.
All in all, if we continue to have ‘boring’ wins like this one from now until the end of the season I’ll be a happy man.
Keep the Blue Flag Flying High!