Kepa Arrizabalaga saves a penalty in extra-time as Chelsea edge past Plymouth in the FA Cup.
Written by Yendi (@ftblYendi).
Edited by Ryan Bellenie (@BellenieSport).
Chelsea returned to action on Saturday afternoon as they took on League One’s Plymouth Argyle in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Still competing in all competitions, The Blues looked to build on their previous 5-1 victory over Chesterfield, where they rotated their squad heavily. The visitors reached the fourth round of the cup after beating Championship side Birmingham at St. Andrews last month. However, a matchup with the Champions of Europe looked a much tougher ask.
The Premier League side were without the influence of manager Thomas Tuchel, who tested positive for COVID-19 before the match.
Aside the gaffer – as well as the long-term injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James – Chelsea were able to field the strongest possible eleven. Notable absentees included Thiago Silva and Christian Pulisic, who were given rest days due to CONCACAF qualifiers in the midweek. Kenedy also made the bench for the first time in four years for The Blues.
The last meeting between the two teams came just under 33 years ago, with Chelsea tasting victory on the southwest.
Despite early pressure from Chelsea, Plymouth took an unlikely lead when a corner drifted in from Jordan Haughton. The cross found Macaulay Gillesphey, who glanced home the opener after eight minutes.
From this juncture the game turned into a Chelsea siege on the Plymouth goal, with efforts from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount striking the bar and post respectively, intermittent between handy saves from Plymouth goalkeeper Michael Cooper.
The Blues breakthrough would come at the end of the half when a well worked move was finished off by captain César Azpilicueta, who deftly flicked the ball in at the near post on the 41st minute.
This ensured that the two teams went in square at the break, with Plymouth uplifted by their strong first half performance.
The Chelsea onslaught continued in the second half, with shots and corners tallying up in an attempt to pull ahead. However, the Plymouth defenders were able to bravely block attempt after attempt, keeping their side well and truly in the game.
The introduction of Marcos Alonso at the start of the second half allowed the hosts to dominate the flanks and float in cross after cross, which provded unsuccessful in finding a winner.
Midway through the second half, a corner from Plymouth was easily collected by Kepa, who excellently picked out Kai Havertz and set the German through on goal. Havertz was unable to convert, seeing his shot saved by Michael Cooper, who had an outstanding game for Plymouth.
Despite sustained pressure from Chelsea in the second half, the honours were even at the end of 90 minutes with the game rolling on into extra-time.
Chelsea returned from the short break ready to bombard the Plymouth goal in the first period of extra time. At the end of the half, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner linked up expertly before Havertz squared to Marcos Alonso, who arrived late in the box to convert the chance.
From then on, Chelsea looked comfortably and were happy to see out the game. However, with four minutes to play Malang Sarr showed his inexperience by gifting the ball to Plymouth attacker Ryan Hardie before bringing him down in the box to hand the visitors a lifeline.
Hardie would then see his mediocre spot kick saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga, who dived left to catch the attempt and send Chelsea to yet another fifth round tie.
After the Whistle:
The visitors can feel pride in their defensive performance, managing to hold the Champions of Europe off a full 67 minutes before conceding the winner. In spells they looked confident on the ball and the performance spells good news for their promotion aspirations. For Chelsea, there will be concerns raised by the performance of Romelu Lukaku, who looked anonymous for over 120 minutes and contributed very little to the Chelsea cause.
With the team being set up around the Belgian number 9, his lack of movement and urgency will definitely be a concern for Thomas Tuchel. Conversely, Hakim Ziyech was able to continue his hot run of form by being the dynamo for the Chelsea attack in this game. His improved performance has given a new feel to the Chelsea attack, and The Blues will be hoping to build on this offensive performance.
Chelsea’s 23-man squad has travelled for the Club World Cup, with their first game set to take place on Wednesday.
Chelsea 2-1 Plymouth Argyle (AET).
- Gillesphey (8’).
- Azpilicueta (41’).
- Alonso (105+1’)
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta © (112’), Christensen (45’), Rüdiger, Sarr; Mount (97’), Jorginho, Kovačić (82’); Ziyech, Lukaku, Hudson-Odoi (64’).
- Subs: Alonso (45’), Havertz (64’), Werner (82’), Saúl (97’), Chalobah (112’).
Plymouth Argyle (5-3-2): Cooper; Edwards, Wilson, Scarr, Gillesphey, Grant (95’); Pereira Camará (94’), Houghton, Mayor (77’); Garrick (68’), Jephcott (58’).
- Subs: Ennis (58’), Hardie (68’), Randell (77’), Broom (94’), Law (95’).
Chelsea (72%) vs Plymouth Argyle (28%).
Chelsea (41) vs Plymouth Argyle (11).
Shots on Target:
Chelsea (11) vs Plymouth Argyle (5).
Chelsea (20) vs Plymouth Argyle (5).
Chelsea (15) vs Plymouth Argyle (4).
- (credit | BBC Sport).
- (credit | Chelsea Football Club).