Chelsea booked their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Stoke that should have been far more convincing. The Pensioners dominated from start to finish and should have won much more comfortably and whilst it is the result that counts – more than ever in the cups – Jose Mourinho cannot help but be concerned by his side’s continued inability to score the goals their fine play merits.
Given Stoke beat Chelsea 3-2 as recently as December there was never a chance the home side would be taking this game lightly and with Mark Hughes naming a strong side on his return to one of his former clubs it was clear Stoke were up for the battle. With both sides fielding teams respectful of the traditions of the FA Cup and the memory of the previous meeting at the Britannia fresh in everyone’s minds, a good game looked in prospect and so it proved from the off as Chelsea leapt out of the blocks.
After just two minutes Samuel Eto’o, fresh and confident after a hat-trick against Man United, turned smartly inside the box, firing through a crowd but his effort curled just wide. The Cameroonian had other chances, notably late in the game when the ball just wouldn’t drop for him inside the six yard box and when he did get his shot away he somehow fired wide.
There were so many other fine chances it would be difficult to list them all but the Blues twice hit the post, Oscar seeming to be using the game as shooting practice, and both Frank Lampard and David Luiz had good long range efforts saved, the latter a thunderously struck free kick that could have cost the Stoke keeper Asmir Begović his fingers!
Juan Mata may have left the club but it is performances like the ones from Eden Hazard and Oscar that show the Special One had a tough decision to make in leaving the Spaniard out of his plans. Both were outstanding here, especially Hazard whose dribbling ability and close control are things of wonder. It was the Brazilian’s intervention that proved decisive though, Oscar shaping a free kick beautifully into the far corner on 27 minutes. The ball was hit to the goalkeeper’s side but with such bend, accuracy and power that Begović, who, as ever, had a fine game, had no chance of keeping it out.
There were good, solid performances all over the pitch for the home side, new signing Nemanja Matic in particular looking impressive. The Serbian reads the game well and as well as breaking up play is able to bring the ball forward and looks an excellent acquisition. However, Chelsea still look like they need a world class forward and 19 shots with just five on target and one goal tells its own story.
The Pensioners will surely have to improve if they are to progress further in the FA Cup, given their reward for this victory is a trip to Man City. Mourinho said of the draw, “No problem. If you want to be the best, you have to play against the best, so it’s good for us. One team is the end product. One team needs to improve and has a long way to go. Good experience, good game, big game.” We think the Special One has brought the hammer firmly into contact with the nail there.