Taking it cum grano salis
This game and result need to be taken with a grain of salt. Chesterfield are a team in the National League (fifth tier), some 90 places beneath Chelsea and in non-league football.
Still, there are certainly some positives (and negatives) that can be taken from the match. Let’s focus largely on the positive, while not ignoring the one overarching negative.
The announced lineup was once again very difficult to interpret at first, with even the 5th Stand app not applying actual positions to the players on the team sheet. Most outlets continued to shoehorn us in a back four as we had done against Tottenham, but that proved to not be the case.
The formation turned out to be a standard 3-4-3 on paper, though with a much more loose interpretation of the roles and responsibilities than typical — other than Malang Sarr, Saúl, and Romelu Lukaku forming a strict spine, the rest were allowed (either by instruction or by the opposition) to be more free and fluid, especially in possession, often swapping positions at will.
Even with a full strength squad Chesterfield would have been hard pressed to get a result — despite being on a 14-game unbeaten run — and unfortunately, they were quite depleted with key players from their back line and midfield missing. Tyrone Williams, a regular on the right side of their back three was cup-tied, and both Liam Mandeville and Jack Clarke missed out due to injury after scoring in their last two 1-0 wins. Meanwhile, Gavin Gunning, who was an injury concern and was wearing the facemask after a broken nose, started but could finish the game in the centre of their back line.
On our side, Tuchel clearly wasn’t messing about by fielding such a strong team and relatively strong substitutions to boot. The unique selections for wingbacks (Hudson-Odoi left, Ziyech/Pulisic right) and the back-line caused a lack of team cohesion, but could be afforded considering the opposition.
Chelsea set out with two main goals — get the back line comfortable with some easy touches and put the game to bed. Debutant Lewis Hall, 17, had four successful passes in the first two minutes and likewise Callum Hudson-Odoi showed how even easier this game might have gone, if our glaring issue of missing our chances were sorted.
With wide open space to attack in the box, Saúl sends a great ball over the top. Unfortunately, a poor touch prevents Hudson-Odoi’s defense-thrashing run from going straight in on goal, and yet the space and time he is afforded in the box demonstrates the anxiety their defenders faced while trying to handle our attack. His cross is cleared behind for a corner.
The ensuing corner would be one of two great set piece routines (in the third and thirtieth minutes) targeting Lukaku, with which he really should have done better — neither shot hitting the target.
Our breakthrough goal would be a result of some good defensive work, a stretched and open field, a lung-busting run, and a bit of fortune. Lewis Hall, who had a fine debut lest we get too excited, closes down a cross and wins the ball. Carrying it out, he finds Kovačić in space, who turns and progresses the ball from our defensive third to the offensive third. Kovačić slides in Ziyech, who was in space on the right and inside their box. His deflected shot (off Gunning’s arm no less) falls perfectly to a just-onside (ed.note: that’s rare!) Timo Werner. From inside the six yard box and without a keeper to beat, Werner takes a controlled touch and passes into the goal.
Despite playing in a back-three, Hall made a number of forward runs and actually ended up in their box as a crossing option and to cover the back post during the first goal. The impressive run that led to our third goal was also strikingly similar to something that Antonio Rüdiger would have been making from the same position.
That said, there were countless chances that should have been finished better and our wastefulness in front of goal was a big takeaway from the game. Lukaku especially was misfiring and had 5 shots, mostly from around the penalty spot and unchallenged, but the only one on target was his goal. The lack of a prolific goalscorer(s) is the most glaring issue between us and the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool and, if we don’t bury the chances against the minnows, the likelihood we do it against teams in the Premier League is minimal.
Chelsea have set a record for consecutive progressions past the third round of this competition — now 24 in a row — just another reason to be happy about what’s transpired.
Success in cup competitions can hopefully propel us forward, with the dire prospect of an absolutely crucial match at the weekend against Manchester City if we intend to stay competitive in the league.
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