Chelsea progressed to the semi finals of the league cup after defeating Bournemouth 1-0 in an entertaining and at some points tense quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
Eddie Howe set his side out in a 3-5-2 formation, but Chelsea enjoyed the majority of possession, which resulted in Bournemouth effectively playing a back five. This didn’t stop them from creating chances in the match though. Sarri rotated some players, but not quite as many as he has in the previous rounds of this tournament. Azpilicueta retained his position at right back, as did Rudiger at centre back. Christensen and Emerson joined them in the back line. Fabregas played in the centre of midfield, Kovacic on the right, and Barkley the left. Giroud started up front with Loftus-Cheek starting wide on the right and Willian on the opposite flank. Chelsea went all guns blazing early doors in an attempt to get ahead early. Three corners were forced in the opening minute and a half. The 2nd of these was played short and when returned to Willian he whipped it in low to the near post, it evaded everyone and had to be blocked by Boruc. Chelsea forced some more early chances, Willian cutting inside from the left and firing straight at Boruc from the edge of the box. Barkley had a shot tipped round for another corner from similar distance.
The match was turning into an intriguing tactical battle in which the wide areas were key to the match. Chelsea were exploiting the key weakness of a back three system, which is it’s difficult to cover the opposition full backs when they overlap. This problem was exacerbated for Bournemouth as Chelsea were again playing two of our central three midfielders wide across the pitch. This was evident particularly down the right wing in the first half as Chelsea attacked the shed. Loftus-Cheek was picked up by left wingback Rico, but such was Kovacic’s influence on the match when dropping into wide areas that Brooks, the left central midfielder for Bournemouth was being forced to mark Kovacic rather than cover the run of Azpilicueta on the overlap. This meant Chelsea were getting an overload coming forward on most attacks. The only problem was we weren’t making the most of this opportunity. When Azpilicueta looked to cross from deep, as he did so many times for Morata headed goals last season, Giroud wasn’t on the last man ready for the cross. This was also the case when Kovacic or Azpilicueta were looking to play balls in behind from this area of the pitch. Azpilicueta put a couple of decent balls in but no one was there to get on the end of them. Giroud was in the right place to get on the end of a Kovacic through ball, which took him wide. His ball in found Willian, but his shot was well blocked.
What made this match an interesting battle tactically was that for the defensive weakness displayed by Bournemouth in wide areas, they had the same advantage on Chelsea when they could break forward. Their tactical plan was that when they played out from the back, Loftus-Cheek or Willian, depending on which side of the pitch they were playing out from, would press the wide centre back, which meant that our full backs had to come up the pitch to engage the Bournemouth wingbacks. This left channels either side of our centre back pairing of Christensen and Rudiger that could be exploited by the rapid forward pairing of Mousset and Wilson. It was exactly this move that created their first chance, and the best opening of the match so far. Daniels play out to left wing back Rico, as Azpi pressed up on him he knocked it into the left channel to Mousset, who ran at Cheistensen and slipped a pass into Wilson down the right of Rudiger. The in form forward pulled his first time shot wide of the far post though. At the other end our tactical advantage played out as this time Brooks went to cover the run of Azpilicueta, and Kovacic’s neat footwork allowed him to find the space to play a delightful outside of the foot through ball for Giroud, but The French world cup winner couldn’t stretch enough to bring it under control. Giroud did test Boruc at his near post shortly after with a shot from inside the box down the left side but the keeper was up to it. Ake then sent through Mousset, again the two centre backs were exposed with Azpilicueta up the pitch, but this time Arrizabalaga acted as a sweeper to clear. In a half of multiple chances it was again a repeat of a through ball down the left flank for Wilson this time that again forced Arrizabalaga of his line again. Wilson found Brooks on the edge of the box on their next forage forward, but his shot hit Mousset and deflected out for a goal kick.
Back to the other end of the pitch, and this time we countered leaving the Bournemouth wing backs up the pitch. Loftus-Cheek ran at the back three and put Willian clean through but Boruc stood up to make a great save to keep it all square. Fabregas was struggling to find the space to operate in that he craves in the centre of the pitch, as the two Bournemouth forwards were dropping back to cover him as their midfield had to deal with the threat in wide areas, but he did get enough of it to pick out Giroud over the top with an exquisite ball, Giroud had to control on his chest with his back to goal, and the move broke down when he couldn’t find a pass. Barkley fired into the shed upper to end a frantic half in what was an extremely open match despite the visitors playing with a back five.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be so open in the second half as we struggled to catch Bournemouth in transition, and couldn’t pick any passes through before they were back and set in shape. The tactical battle continued however as neither team changed their system of play.
Loftus-Cheek came to the fore in the second half. He and Kovacic had been the pick of our players. Kovacic was running the midfield and playing an important role in stretching their midfield. Loftus-Cheek had displayed great strength and footwork, and played in Willian in a similar move to that of the first half, but this time the ball took a slight deflection on the way through and Boruc could gather. Fabregas spotted the diagonal run of Ruben and played a textbook ball over the top from deep, but this just evaded the youngster. There were fewer chances in the second half, but the same intensity was there. You couldn’t take your eyes of this match. Loftus-Cheek was again the protagonist as he cut in from the right flank, his fancy footwork beating a defender as he touched it from one foot to the other. His shot grazed the outside of the near post from the edge of the area.
As time ticked on in this encounter it was difficult for either side to get behind the other as they had done in the first half. The inevitability of knock out football means that if you are still level as you get closer to ninety minutes you are keen not concede and go out. A few half chances were created by either side, but nothing clear-cut. Sarri had brought on Pedro in a straight swap for Willian just before the hour, and he bit the bullet and brought on Eden Hazard, an injury concern before the match after a horrible tackle from Dale Stephens in the Brighton match at the weekend. This change resulted in Barkley being replaced in central midfield by Loftus-Cheek, and Hazard taking his place on the wing. The Belgian had an early chance from outside the right side of the box but fired over. Bournemouth showed they were still an attacking force as Ake found Wilson who fired goalwards from the edge of the area but Azpilicueta made a good block to divert it for a corner. Hazard was becoming more of a threat, and tested Boruc low to his right from range.
Inside the final ten now and it had the feeling that either team might knick it late on. Whilst penalties were clearly looming, both teams were searching for a winner rather than holding what they had. Hazard was played in on the left side, with Bournemouth’s back five in good shape in front of him, he saw the run of Pedro to his right and played the Spaniard in, the ball got caught under his feet slightly under pressure from the defence, but he managed to backheel the ball to Hazard who had followed him in, and his powerful shot deflected of the arm of Daniels, and beat Boruc to give us the lead with six minutes remaining.
Bournemouth weren’t done yet though. A Cook long throw bounced back to him in the 89th minute, and he powered a first time volley through the box, but Kepa held it well. Four minutes of added time were signalled. Emerson was played in over the top as the match was becoming stretched as the visitors pressed forward. Boruc smothered his shot again. Giroud was then denied in the 92nd minute after a Hazard cross, Boruc again with the save.
Bournemouth threw everything they had left at this now. Luiz had come on for Christensen who had injured his hamstring. The Brazilian won the ball in our box but instead of clearing up field he decided to dribble the ball out and lost it, the ball back in resulted in a blocked shot that was then cleared. In the dying embers of stoppage time Bournemouth forced a free-kick wide on the right. Boric was up, and as the ball was played in something resembling penalty box pinball ensued, the ball finally falling to Fraser on the edge of the area, his shot was blocked by Giroud, but it fell to Ake who hit it on the turn, but Emerson threw himself in the way this time. Chelsea had survived, and progress to the two-legged semi where we have been drawn to face Tottenham Hotspur. The second leg will be at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 1 (Hazard 84)
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta©, Christensen, (Luiz 81), Rudiger, Emerson:
Kovacic, Fabregas, Barkley, (Hazard 61);
Loftus-Cheek, Giroud, Willian, (Pedro 55)
Bournemouth (3-5-2) 0
Boruc; Cook, Simpson, Daniels;
Ibe, Stanislas, (Fraser 63), Ake, Brooks, (Defoe 88), Rico;
Wilson, Mousset, (King 73)