Chelsea joined Arsenal, Bristol City and Manchester City in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup with a dramatic late win over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
Antonio Conte promised minutes for his fringe men. He delivered on that, with Kenedy, Ethan Ampadu, Danny Drinkwater, Willy Caballero and Michy Batshuayi getting the nod from the start. The visiting Cherries set up in a 3-5-2 with Jermain Defoe leading the line.
Ampadu scythed down Defoe within the first 90 seconds to pick up a deserved yellow card. A tackle that could be seen as a reminder of the teenager’s time in League Two with Exeter City left Defoe with the physio on the turf for a minute or two.
Chelsea gently tapped the ball around for the opening 12 minutes or so. A sharp change of pace saw Kenedy slide Cesc Fabregas behind the Bournemouth defence down the inside-right channel, and – in typically cool fashion – the Spaniard rolled the ball across the box to Willian. The Brazilian stroked it home with Artur Boruc in no-man’s-land. In the goalkeeper’s defence, he probably expected Fabregas to shoot himself or take another touch.
Soon after Chelsea took the lead, two visiting players were on the ground. Defoe never shook off Ampadu’s early tackle, and was replaced by Jordon Ibe, while Harry Arter recovered from taking a knee to the head from a team-mate.
Ampadu marshalled the backline like a veteran throughout the first half. His early caution had no impact on his enthusiastic tackling, and his midfield experience clearly aided his calmness on the ball from the middle of the back three.
After the goal, a period of calm left us with a sleepy Carabao Cup tie, just as had been suffered at the Emirates on Tuesday. Chelsea had the majority of the ball, but were happy to be ultra-patient, and the defence quickly squashed any Bournemouth advance.
As the clock ticked past 40, Kenedy had perhaps Chelsea’s best opening since the goal. Bournemouth’s defence parted in front of him as Batshuayi made a darting run to the left, but the Brazilian horribly mishit his shot from 25 yards that drifted into the crowd.
The whistle went for half-time with the Chelsea fans satisfied thanks to the early goal, but very few people entertained. The Blues had been sloppy, and their visitors had lacked attacking impetus.
Eddie Howe clearly did or said something at half time to ignite Bournemouth. The first 10 minutes of the second period was dominated by the Cherries, though opportunities remained almost non-existent.
Having weathered the early storm, Chelsea regained control of play and readied Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Willian and Pedro were the two to make way, signalling a return to 3-5-2. Given Bournemouth’s ascendancy in the second half, it was of no surprise that Conte wanted to add Bakayoko to the middle third, while giving Hazard complete freedom to launch on the counter.
It took until the 68th minute for anything of note to happen. Kenedy squared up Adam Smith near the byline on the left, and rainbow flicked the ball over the right-back’s head. Smith raised his hands, which saw the Brazilian leap to the ground. Clumsy defending, and Chelsea a little unfortunate not to receive a game-altering spot kick.
Conte was understandably keen to avoid extra time, and he needed a second goal to guarantee that. He turned to Alvaro Morata, who replaced Batshuayi in the 73rd minute. At the same stoppage, Howe brought on Lewis Cook for Arter.
Ibe went close for Bournemouth from the edge of the box in the 78th minute. His low, driven shot fizzed past Caballero’s right-hand post.
The odd lofted cross provided little to no danger for Chelsea, as Bournemouth were short of guile when chasing the game.
A long throw moments from the board being lifted for added time awoke a drowsy evening. Morata made a poor headed clearance, which only landed at the edge of the box. The ball was then squared to Dan Gosling, who had several yards to himself. He eyed up the top-right-hand corner of the goal, and swept it past the leaping Caballero.
Stamford Bridge was in a shock. A calm, bemusement, if you like. What was eking into a routine victory had become a disaster: 30 extra minutes.
Well, even that didn’t last long. Hazard had hardly touched the ball since coming on, but the Belgian found himself behind the Bournemouth defence almost immediately after the goal. Receiving a driven ball, the forward was almost parallel to the byline. With a covering defender stopping a turn towards the goal, Hazard executed a smooth backheel.
His sci-fi-worthy understanding with Morata paid off. The ball was within reach of the charging Spaniard, who beat Boruc to it. He poked it past the rushing Polish stopper to make it 2-1.
Bournemouth had time for one attack, but it was fruitless.
Late drama compensated for what was a very ordinary cup tie. Chelsea were lucky, Bournemouth will be left with a cruel twang, yet it was probably a fair result. And, most importantly, it evaded an extra half-hour that no team can afford in December.
The performance of Ampadu was the highlight for Chelsea, while the indifferent displays from Drinkwater and Zappacosta will only encourage Conte’s frustration with his depth.