Chelsea through to final after beating Tottenham 4-2 in thrilling FA Cup semi-final

Match Summary

Chelsea progressed to the final of the FA Cup with a hard-fought 4-2 win at Tottenham in a pulsating match at Wembley.

The Blues started off well with two goals by Willian but were pegged back by even better goals from Tottenham, firstly a Kane header and secondly an Alli strike, but Hazard and a Matic thunderbolt sealed the win late on.

It means Antonio Conte’s aspirations for a league and cup double are still on in his debut season, with Arsenal and Manchester City facing off tomorrow, but he did it the unorthodox way with Hazard and Costa left out of the starting line-up and instead using Willian and Batshuayi.

Spurs have won eight games in a row in all competitions, their best run since 1960, they have won just two of their last 16 meetings with Chelsea, and agonisingly now have lost seven FA Cup semi-finals in a row.

The last time these sides met in the FA Cup was at this stage in 2012, where Chelsea won convincingly 5-1 before winning the final against Liverpool.

A similar intent for victory was present from the off, with the Blues evidently keen to bounce back after last week’s tactical miscalculation against Manchester United, with Chelsea gaining the upper hand for the first quarter of an hour.

Pedro was instantly racing goalward inside three minutes, only to be hauled down by Toby Alderweireld, who Martin Atkinson gave an early yellow card to.

But Willian made sure the personal cost also went alongside a collective cost, curling the ball past the wall and beating Lloris’ near side. The goalkeeper should have done better, but take nothing away from Willian’s strike, which brought back memories of his set-pieces from yesteryear.

That could have soon become two but Michy Batshuayi was slow to react to Kante’s pass after a Vertonghen error, and the Belgian had another chance to assert his attacking abilities but fluffed his lines when presented with a free header, albeit he was in an offside position.

Chelsea had let-offs of their own in an open and frenetic first half: a stray Azpilicueta back-pass nearly was intercepted by Alli with the stand-in captain unaware of his surroundings, but the Chelsea defence had so far stood firm, making good tackles with Nathan Ake particularly impressing deputising for the injured Gary Cahill.

Kante was thankfully alive to a quick Spurs free-kick from Eriksen to Kane, but the next time these two partnered up Spurs would have their equaliser, with Kane adjusting his body to head in quite superbly past Courtois.

The goal galvanised Tottenham, who had a penalty appeal when Azpilicueta stuck out his leg with Kane in the box, but Atkinson was to preside over a fairly lenient game.

Vertonghen then delivered a beautiful ball which Dier glanced wide, but it was another let-off, as was two chances straight after that when Kane and Alli were both through.

Chelsea did regain the lead just before half-time though. Moses cantered forward and a late lunge by Son looked destined to be a spot-kick. Even though contact was light, Ian Hussin decided to award the penalty where Martin Atkinson was unsighted, but the ensuing kerfuffle was unsightly, with Batshuayi and Willian fighting over the ball, to be separated by Azpilicueta under Conte’s orders to give it to the Brazilian. Thankfully Willian made no mistake for his brace.

Lloris then made a real hash of a block and handled the ball outside of the box, but Hussin shied out of making this call.

It did not, however, take Tottenham long to get back into it after the restart, and again with a fantastic goal.

An assist-of-the-season contender by Eriksen found Alli, racing in between Luiz and Azpilicueta to control the first-time volley and hammering it past Courtois. It was a spectacular goal but disappointing Chelsea defending.

Spurs then appealed for two penalties and a free-kick, all waved away by Atkinson, whilst Pedro tried to get Chelsea back in front for the third time in the game, but was too slow in his counter.

On came Eden Hazard and Diego Costa at exactly the hour-mark point, and then later Fabregas for Pedro, but Spurs were still, at least initially, on front foot. A corner whipped in thankfully evaded everyone, whilst Dembele outmuscled his countryman Hazard when the latter tried to counter.

But Chelsea’s first corner, after 75 minutes, was to yield their third goal. The ball fell kindly to Eden Hazard, who was completely unmarked on the edge of the box and buried it in Lloris’ far post.

If that was a good strike Chelsea fans needed to wait only five minutes more for one of the best of their season. It took Matic until late-April to record his first goal of the season, but what a corker it was, receiving the square ball off Hazard and hammering it 30 yards out crisply, striking the under-side of the crossbar and nestling in the back of the net.

The Tottenham fightback petered out in the final ten and it was a question of whether Chelsea could inflict more misery and make it a five-star performance.

Hazard rounded Lloris, but the angle was too tight and his pull back to Alonso did not lead to anything, whilst Costa had a free header from two yards out.

Back-spin stopped a potent Kane free-kick from crossing the line and making Chelsea fans sweat for the final 60 seconds, but Chelsea did manage to cross the line, where they return to Wembley in five weeks’ time to fight for the trophy.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

ANTONIO CONTE: Much was made of Conte’s decision to not start Hazard and Costa, and if it backfired the Italian would not have heard the last of it, but, in the same ilk as Mourinho trumping Conte by resting Ibrahimovic last week, did Conte mess up Pochettino’s entire week’s training by dropping Hazard and Costa for the first hour? Mind games or not, the effect worked, with substitute Willian scoring two goals and Hazard scoring the winner when he did come on. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was proud: “I am proud for this achievement. It is great for the players for me. This is my first season in England and it is great to fight for the title and reach the final of the FA Cup, a great competition. Eden and Diego knew very well my plan because in this situation it is important to be clear to all of the players.”

Pochettino was reflective: “Congratulations to Chelsea. We dominated the game but they were more clinical than us. I feel proud, we were fantastic in the way we played and in our philosophy.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea suffer second loss in four games as 2-0 defeat at Manchester United cuts lead to 4 points

Match Summary

Chelsea’s lead at the top of the table is slashed to just four points after Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United side inflicted a bruising 2-0 defeat.

Mourinho, who has lost both games against Chelsea since taking charge at United, made it third time lucky, with Rashford opening the scoring after seven minutes and Herrera making sure early in the second half.

The Blues, who were unbeaten in 12 matches against Manchester United in all competitions, could have no complaints, with all players conspicuous by their absence for their second wobble in four.

With no shot on target for the first time in a decade, and with Tottenham playing yesterday to a resounding 4-0 win, it blows the title race wide opened, with the two sides coming together at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final next weekend.

It was the start Chelsea did not want, before a ball was even kicked. A full-strength squad for Conte yesterday in his pre-match press conference saw two key first-team players injured before the first whistle was even blew, with Courtois declared unfit in the morning and Alonso picking up an injury with ten minutes before kick-off.

Begovic and Zouma was quickly introduced in a make-shift line-up for the visitors, but the Blues were all at sea in the first half.

Despite Manchester United’s top scorer being on the bench, Rashford’s pace was tearing the Blues apart all half. The Englishman was through within just four minutes after another Luiz mistake, whilst Chelsea did not heed their warning three minutes later and were punished.

Herrera broke forward after handling the ball which went unspotted by Bobby Madley, and an inch-perfect ball played forward to Rashford meant all the 19-year-old had to do was keep his composure in front of Begovic, which he duly did. Chelsea have now conceded in tenconsecutive Premier League games, the worst run without a clean sheet since 1996.

It nearly became worse moments later: Pogba’s pass this time evaded Cahill who was causing the errors, but Rashford was wide this time, although he did have another chance when Young broke free on the left and drove a low ball across the Chelsea penalty area. The ball evaded everyone, but Rashford would have had a tap-in given Luiz was on the wrong side of his man.

Chance after chance came for the hosts, and particularly for Rashford, who this time broke free on the left and, but for a crucial intervention by Begovic’s right hand, Lingard would have had another tap-in.

By this time Conte had seen enugh and the back-line was switching once more: Moses was to become the left wing-back and Azpilicueta the right.

That did not arrest the Red Devils’ chances down the centre, with Ashley Young afforded acres of space centre to pick his spot from 18 yards. Fortunately, that spot was Row Z, but it was clear Chelsea was struggling.

A quiet game by Costa with his feet meant he felt he had to make up for it with his mouth, and a series of petulant fouls with Pogba and Rojo brought the Spaniard a yellow card. Bobby Madley, at 31 years of age, is a relative newcomer with the big stage, and has only shown one red card in his last 27 Premier League matches, but Costa had to watch his step for the best part of an hour.

Any attempts by the Spaniard to let his feet do the talking was wayward, with a long-range effort going wide, but with the half-time whistle about to be blown, Antonio Conte will have lots more thinking to do regarding Chelsea’s rearguard, who let Young blaze another shot high and wide but from a glorious central position 15 yards from goal.

Will whatever the Italian had to say at half-time reignite Chelsea’s title hopes, which at this point stands at just a four-point lead?

No: it got worse and worse for the league leaders.

A poor mistake by N’Golo Kante to give the ball away in his penalty area was picked up by Young, who found Herrera. All the Spaniard need to do was drill it goalward, and given the sea of Chelsea men in front of him, Begovic was unsighted to see the ball sail past him via a big deflection off Zouma’s legs.

Lingard and Rashford were running rings around the Chelsea defence and the former nearly had his side’s third, and any Chelsea effort at the other end were ambitious tries from range by Pedro.

Moses was sacrificed for Fabregas as Conte reverted to a back four as Azpilicueta switched back to the left, and the midfielder’s free-kick found Costa perfectly but his striking companion let his assist machine down.

Azpilicueta sent a delicious cross-field ball to Pedro who could not make sufficient contact on the stretch, whilst Mourinho reacted to Conte’s midfield change by shoring up his side with Carrick’s introduction.

A Matic mistake saw Rashford race through but his shot hit the side-netting, whilst Conte upped the ante again by bringing Willian on for Matic.

A melee in the penalty area from a Chelsea corner nearly saw Costa stab home, but any substantial chance came Rashford’s way, weaving in and out of Luiz and nearly sneaking one past Begovic’s near post.

United have only lost once at home in 37 matches in all competitions and the run would continue. Chelsea go again next weekend, against Tottenham of all clubs, in the FA Cup semi-final.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

NO-ONE: Did anyone do anything? The defence was leaky, the midfield were out-muscled and the attacking trio of Pedro, Hazard and Costa were kept largely anonymous. Add in the fact Courtois and Alonso suffered pre-match injuries, for which their absences may be longer than one game and whom the 5-2-3 relied heavily on, and all-in-all it was a very poor outing in Manchester for Chelsea. 3/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte admitted his nervousness about the title race situation: “I have concern because we have to work together and find quickly the right ambition to win this title. Tottenham is in good form and playing with enthusiasm, we must find the same. [The fault for today’s loss] is mine. In this case I was not able to do the right motivation. [Manchester United] deserved to win because they showed more desire than us.”

Mourinho was pleased tactically: “Chelsea are the best counter attacking team in the country and we controlled them very well. I do not feel extra joy at beating Chelsea — we beat the leader. It doesn’t matter if the leader is Chelsea or another — we beat them convincingly.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea restore seven-point lead with comfortable 3-1 win at Bournemouth

Match Summary

Chelsea saw off Bournemouth 3-1 in an entertaining Saturday tea-time tie as the Blues restore their seven-point lead at the top of the table.

Tottenham’s lunch-time win temporarily cut the visitors’ lead down to four points, but the Blues made no mistake in the sunny south coast, with Smith’s own goal and a superb goal by Eden Hazard giving Chelsea a comfortable 2-0 cushion with just 20 minutes played.

King pulled one back for the hosts, and despite it taking nearly half an hour before Chelsea really put the game to bed with an excellent Marcos Alonso free-kick, the Blues never looked in danger, especially going into the game having only lost once in their last 12 Premier League away matches.

It means Chelsea need 15 more points to guarantee themselves the title, a pursuit which continues next Sunday against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

With Tottenham throwing down the gauntlet by winning 4-0 in their early kick-off, Chelsea needed the best possible start to reassure their fans, but it was quite the opposite when Luiz nearly scored an own goal with a minute played.

Frazer’s cross looked innocuous enough but the Brazilian took a wild swipe at the ball, judging the flight of it horribly and requiring an extreme reflex reaction from Courtois. Luiz signalled to the sun in an attempt to clear any blame on him, but it was a let-off.

Moses was also lucky to escape with just a yellow card — and not a goal conceded — when he deliberately handled the ball to stop Bournemouth running through, but soon enough the visitors got going in the most fortuitous of circumstances.

Moses’ cross found Costa in the penalty area, and his swivel brought about a great chance with his left foot. The Spaniard however absolutely shanked his shot, which would have gone a good five yards wide had Smith not been there to deflect it in off the post. They all count, but it was hard on Bournemouth.

If that was lucky, the second goal three minutes later was anything but.

Pedro fed Kante who swung a delicious 50-yard ball to Hazard, who beat the offside trap to go one-on-one with Boruc. Shaping to curl it but actually going round the goalkeeper, Hazard rounded Boruc to his left and slid the ball home. It was an excellent goal, his 14th of the season and equal to his best total in a Premier League season set in both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 season. The Hazard of last season, who went 31 games without scoring, defies belief and is most definitely gone.

Complacency would be Chelsea’s biggest threat sitting so comfortably on the top of the table and Pugh nearly put that on show when he was in but for Azpilicueta’s excellent blow. Afobe then did brilliantly to control the ball and was unlucky to smash it against the post, ricochet off the back of Courtois, but still the ball did not fall into the net.

A bit of respite for Chelsea saw Pedro fire high and wide and Costa had a chance but was too slow when stride-for-stride with Francis. Then, Hazard found Pedro from a low corner, something that had clearly been worked on on the training ground, but Boruc saved Pedro’s low drive well.

The returning Moses was a menacing attacking threat when given the opportunity and, when in space, found Hazard and Costa, but the latter wasted it. Costa has drawn blanks in the last 3 Premier League games, never going four league games without a goal, but it was not one of his days today.

The hosts are unbeaten in the last five league games and so it was no surprise to see them show some fight, especially with King up top leading the way. The Norwegian, who has scored nine goals in his last 10 appearances, would score his another, albeit with a wicked deflection off Luiz that took it into the top corner past Courtois. It is the ninth game in a row in which the Belgian has conceded.

Could the attacking prowess of Hazard, Pedro and Costa make up for it?

Alonso slid a ball that was aimed for the oncoming Costa but was too close to Boruc, whilst the leaky Chelsea defence had to withstand pressure from a 25-yard Frazer strike and moments later King and Frazer worked the ball around the area but thankfully no-one was there to finish off and Kante hacked clear.

Hazard whipped a cross straight across goal as Costa could not get his head on it, whilst Alonso then set up another opportunity for Costa but the Spaniard failed to get a touch.

Other players needed to take matters into their own hands, and that is exactly what Alonso did from the next set-piece, which ironically Costa won.

Tripped on the edge of the penalty area, Andre Marriner blew for a foul, and all Marcos Alonso needed was a short run-up before the ball sailed over the wall and into Boruc’s goal with the Pole unmoved.

The Blues have won 18 of their 21 league matches this season against the teams currently outside the top six in the table, and with this fire-power, Conte saw out the final 20 minutes by introducing Willian, Fabregas and Zouma.

The win could have been made more convincing had Alonso not wasted a Hazard pass, and Moses did superbly to beat three men before hammering the ball goalward only to see Boruc get a superb hand to it, but Chelsea replied in as emphatic a fashion as Tottenham had set out.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

EDEN HAZARD: On his day, which has happened a lot this season, the Belgian is magic. It is staggering to believe this same player 12 months ago went 31 games without scoring a goal, because his all-round play this season has been superb. This was no more typified on a sunny Saturday tea-time match at Bournemouth, rounding off an excellent performance with a superb goal. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte urged his players to keep working: “We started the game very well with great attention and focus. Then we conceded the goal and we lost a bit of confidence. In the second half we managed the game and scored another goal, then the free-kick from Marcos Alonso. Now it is important to rest and restart and prepare for the game against Manchester United.”

Howe could not fault his men: “I have to compliment Chelsea, they’re an outstanding team and their system works very well for them. But I compliment my boys as well because they played very well. In the end Chelsea were too strong.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea maintain seven-point lead at top of table with crucial 2-1 against Manchester City

Match Summary

Chelsea do the double over Manchester City as an Eden Hazard brace maintains Chelsea’s seven-point lead at the top of the table.

A goal inside the first 10 minutes by Hazard set Chelsea on their way, but Aguero was gifted an equaliser by Courtois’ howler. Hazard then scored his second off the rebound from his saved penalty to secure Chelsea precious points on a night where Tottenham won too.

The visitors won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge last season, but this loss means Manchester City, who were unbeaten in eight league matches, have now suffered six league defeats in a single season, the first time this has happened to any of Pep Guardiola’s clubs in his managerial career.

With Antonio Conte keen to not lose consecutive home league games as a head coach since November 2009, the Italian opted for a change of system and personnel: Zouma came in for Matic and dropped into the back three, with Azpilicueta moving to wing-back — Moses is still out injured — and Fabregas pushed further forward.

It was an experiment which started well and brought Chelsea a first goal inside 10 minutes. Hazard started a move he would later finish, swinging the ball wide to Azpilicueta who cut the ball back inside to Hazard, free inside the penalty box and shooting past Caballero, who managed to get a hand on the ball.

Fernandinho then tried his hand from range, whilst Aguero had an opportunity saved by Courtois, having driven 20 yards and sent the Chelsea back-line completely backing off and inviting Aguero in.

Fabregas had a chance to make more secure Chelsea’s lead from a Hazard counter but his central left-footed shot clipped Clichy and looped over Caballero and his bar.

How that would have helped the home fans as moments later the lead was completely wiped out. A howler of a clearance by Courtois brought about a two-on-one opportunity for Manchester City, with Silva finding space for a shot, before Aguero collected the ricochet and tapping home into an empty net. It was a gift of a goal and Aguero, who has four goals in his last three league appearances against Chelsea, was not about to pass it up.

Hazard had a chance straight away to restore his side’s lead, one-on-one with John Stones but Costa was stupid to clash with Delph off the ball, giving Mike Dean no choice but to stop play with Hazard in a state of confusion.

The end-to-end game saw Clichy then slide a ball across the Chelsea back-line as the Blues were losing their shape after City’s equaliser, with the Citizens finding space behind Kante.

But the break the hosts needed soon came from the penalty spot.

Fabregas fed Pedro with a delicate ball and, when Pedro cut back inside, he was felled by Fernandinho right in front of Mike Dean’s eyes for a stone-wall penalty. Whilst Hazard missed, he did gather the rebound to record his 13th goal of the season.

The Blues conceded two quick goals straight after taking the lead at Crystal Palace at the weekend so should have been extra careful after regaining the lead here, but Aguero was allowed to shoot — albeit wide — in further evidence that the visitors were not out of it.

In recognition of that, Conte abandoned his experiment in time for the second-half, with Pedro moving to right wing-back and Matic on for Zouma in the reshuffle, but whilst this system has been used before, it seemed to add even more confusion, at least in the initial stages, as Matic was caught ball-watching when the man he was marking from a free-kick, Vincent Kompany, managed to steer a header onto the crossbar. It was a let-off.

There have been four red cards in the last five league meetings between these sides, with three being shown to City players, but the first booking would only come in the 51st minute when Mike Dean carded Clichy for a careless foul.

The opportunities kept coming and Fernandinho blazed the ball over when five yards out and deemed onside despite replays suggesting he was off, whilst chance after chance continued coming the visitors’ way, with De Bruyne working a smart low free-kick to Sane but to no eventual avail.

Pedro tried to curl a shot in on the 67th minute but really Chelsea had been shutting up shot from around the 55th. Cahill read the situation well to stop Silva feeding in Aguero, but Chelsea had the best opportunity to put the game to bed on a counter-attack soon after. Pedro, Fabregas and Hazard were all each selflessly passing up the opportunity to score and giving the ball to one another, with Hazard eventually blazing over when City had enough men back. It was a chance missed and Conte knew it.

A late City flurry saw Aguero hit the side-netting from a wide angle — a huge chance but not as big as John Stones from two yards out, who failed to get the ball out of his feet in time and fired it high in the ensuing panic.

It was a late let-off for Chelsea, but the Blues preserve their lead — a Guardiola-managed side has never previously lost both league games against the same opponent in a single season — and crucially their seven-point lead.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

EDEN HAZARD: The magician has sometimes been criticised for not turning up in big matches, but today the Belgian delivered. An early goal settled the nerves and, whilst his penalty was poor, the cool head from the rebound settled the points in the Blues’ favour. The 26-year-old was running rings around the City back-line all evening, and should have secured his hat-trick but for blazing his shot over, before he was substituted to a standing ovation. 8/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was pleased the Crystal Palace loss was only a blip: “At this time of the season it is easy to be nervous. There is a lot of pressure. Our reaction [to the weekend loss] was very good. We showed what it is to be a good team. I want to thank to the crowd because they pushed us. When you see your opponents continue to win, you must win to win the title. That is all we have to do.”

Guardiola was honest but spoke of longevity: “In the boxes we are not good enough. We created enough to score goals. It is our problem [but] it is an honour to have the amazing players I have. It is encouraging for the future.” 

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea suffer shock 2-1 home loss to Crystal Palace

Match Summary

Chelsea’s run of 10 consecutive Premier League victories at home come to a shock end as Crystal Palace fight back to win 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Fabregas ensured the hosts got off to the perfect start after five minutes, but Crystal Palace won on their last trip to Chelsea in August 2015 and would do so again, with two goals in two minutes soon after, firstly by Zaha before Benteke delivered the killer blow.

Six of the last seven meetings between these two sides have been settled by single-goal margins, but despite a second-half Chelsea onslaught, Conte could not pick up where Chelsea left off before the international break.

The Blues have kept just two clean sheets in their last 10 league games, having recorded 10 shut-outs in the previous 12 matches, and this loss, coupled with a tricky-looking fixture against Manchester City on Wednesday, proves the title race is far from over, with the lead currently standing at seven points.

It was a frenetic start to the match, with the outcome decided in all but 12 minutes. Chelsea poked their noses in front first, started off by a wonderful long ball by Fabregas to Hazard, who controlled and waited until the Spaniard caught up with play, squaring the ball back to Fabregas to tapped home from three yards out. It was sound a simple goal, but it was expertly done between the two men supporting Diego Costa up top.

They say you are at your most vulnerable straight after you have scored a goal, and if complacency did creep into Chelsea’s play, it should not take away from a fine individual goal by Wilfred Zaha just four minutes later.

With the ball lost by Matic, Benteke and Zaha were tightly marked but the latter shrugged off Alonso and Azpilicueta and, with the smallest window of opportunity, leathered it past Courtois.

One became two just moments later as Chelsea were stunned. Two-on-two again after a swift counter-attack, Benteke and Zaha ran rings around Luiz and Cahill, with this time the latter turning provider for the former. Benteke, now one-on-one with Courtois, still had a lot of work to do, but lifted the ball over his Belgian compatriot with aplomb. The 26-year-old scored against Chelsea home and away last season whilst playing for Liverpool, and despite having only scored one goal in his last 13 league games this campaign, was returning to haunt Chelsea agin.

The match did not let up after such a busy start. Pedro should have been granted a penalty when his shot was blocked by Townsend’s arm — Craig Pawson denied it — whilst Hennessey did brilliantly to stop Costa’s shot after he was found by Fabregas.

The onslaught kept coming: Alonso, Matic and Azpilicueta all had noteworthy chances, as too did the expected Hazard and Costa. The Blues would rack up 11 shots on target to Crystal Palace’s three, but Hennessey was not budging.

Conte had seen enough and decided a tactical switch early in the second half: Willian on for Matic and a switch in formation.

That nearly instantly backfired when Crystal Palace could have put the game to bed, with Puncheon finding Zaha one-on-one with Courtois but this time the Belgian stood tall.

Batshuayi then came on as Crystal Palace looked to defend their lead in the closing quarter of an hour, but Costa nearly broke in from a Hazard cross, but somehow skewed his free header well wide.

Goal-mouth scrambles ensued as Pedro’s cross was hurriedly cleared, but despite the seven injury-time minutes, Chelsea could not find a way back, meaning the visitors claim four straight Premier League wins, a feat last achieved 24 months ago. It also means Sam Allardyce becomes the first manager to win a Premier League match against Chelsea with four different clubs. Conte will be hoping to take revenge against Manchester City, and Pep Guardiola, on Wednesday.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

CESC FABREGAS: With Willian only just returning from international duty, Fabregas was given the opportunity to be one of the two supporting men for Diego Costa, and the ex-Arsenal ace does not take long to make an impact, does he? Sublime cross-field ball to Hazard that covered the length of the field, and the awareness to get on the end of it was superb. Did cause Crystal Palace problems thereafter, but could not do enough to drag his side back into it. 6/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte felt this was one of those days: “This is football. We must accept this result. We scored our goal after five minutes and then we conceded two in a few minutes. When you concede goals in that way you must understand the situation and improve on these mistakes. In every game in England, anything can happen. The league is so strong.”

Allardyce was pleased his side did not cave in: “I think our performance is typical of what seems to be the character of the side. The determination has shone through. The defence was outstanding, the goalkeeper was outstanding. The game plan worked exceptionally well.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea leave it late with 87th minute Cahill winner to see off Stoke City 2-1

Match Summary

Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the table to 13 points, but they left it late against a stubborn Stoke City side.

Two set-pieces in the first half, one free-kick from Willian and one penalty by Walters, looked to be the only goals of the game as both teams would have to settle for a share of the spoils, but Cahill, who earlier gave away the penalty against Walters, atoned with three minutes left on the clock.

The Blues have won 18 of their 20 Premier League matches this season against the teams currently outside the top five, but only won two of their last seven games away to Stoke in all competitions, so it was no surprise to see a cagey match settled only in the 87th minute by a Cahill winner.

In the end though the Blues do march back to London with three points and, with title rivals playing later, a healthy 13-point gap with 10 games left to play.

Costa, clearly incensed with the lack of protection, could not keep his mouth shut for much beyond a quarter of an hour, and Taylor showed him the early yellow card.

But whilst on a personal level Costa was unhappy, his side should have been in celebratory mood as Willian’s free-kick gave the visitors an early lead. Sensing opportunity and seeing a gap in Lee Grant’s goal, Willian took his set-piece quickly and Grant fumbled the ball into his own net in a comical goal, but they all count as Willian, who scored twice against Stoke on New Year’s Eve, wheeled away to celebrate.

The Potters have kept three clean sheets in their last four league games, but the record was not to be preserved here. It could have got worse had Victor Moses’ shot not been blocked. Alonso then was on the receiving end of a well-worked set-piece by Willian, but shot straight at Lee Grant when anywhere else and it would have been a second.

Costa nearly laid on a perfect through-ball to Pedro, who was on the move and would have been one-on-one, but Stoke had their opportunities, especially when Arnautovic squared a ball into the box before Kante intercepted.

Stoke then thought they had equalised, but a superb call by assistant Adam Nunn denied the goal. On initial viewing it looked like Nunn’s flag was raised for offside, but goalscorer Martins Indi was not, but the foul appeared to have been instead about Berahino’s push on Azpilicueta, with the Englishman offside and interfering with play by stopping Apilicueta potentially getting to the ball before Martins Indi did.

It was a superb call, but Stoke would be on the receiving end of a favourable refereeing call minutes later.

A free-kick floated in looked long and was to be Courtois’ all day, except Gary Cahill wanted to make sure Walters could not reach it by pushing him over. Chelsea have only given away one spot-kick this season but, despite no protestation, Taylor awarded Walters the spot-kick, and Walters himself blasted home.

The Blues have kept just two clean sheets in their last nine league games, having recorded 10 shut-outs in the previous 12 matches, but despite the defensive frailties the attacking prowess was still on show.

Pedro had two great chances, one with each foot, from 10 yards out but was inaccurate, whilst later on in the match the Spaniard was slow when one-on-one and allowed Cameron to get back.

Luiz was clever to read a cut-back by the Stoke attack and broke up play effectively, but the second half was as evenly-pegged as the first.

Pedro was then nearly fed through by Willian but for Pieters to haul him down, bringing him a yellow card, whilst Alonso was agonisingly close to doubling his side’s lead from a free-kick, with the crossbar still rattling for several seconds afterwards.

Matic tried his hand at a long-range speculative shot just as Cesc Fabregas was about to enter the fray as Conte looked to press on.

Pedro and Willian were again continuing to be at the thick of things, but evidently missing Eden Hazard, who had to miss today’s game with an unspecified injury.

Loftus-Cheek then came on in a rare appearance, but Stoke were well-organised and well-drilled.

But for all their huffing and puffing, there was last-minute heart-break as Gary Cahill atoned for his earlier penalty giveaway with a right-footed shot from inside the box. Loftus-Cheek did well to pressure Pieters to give away a corner, and from Willian’s delivery Cahill slammed home the loose ball.

Costa, aiming for his 50th Premier League goal, then hit the post, before Bardsley was sent off late on for picking up a needless second yellow card, but victory will be sweet for Antonio Conte, with his side digging out the points as, some would say, the mark of champions.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

WILLIAN: Huffed and puffed and, alongside Pedro, at the centre of every Chelsea action. Not given much game time under Antonio Conte, with Pedro and Hazard when fit preferred as the two support men for Costa, but the Brazilian today showed perfectly why he can put in a shift too, being smart to take his goal from the free-kick and an all-round excellent display, getting into shooting positions and weaving his way in and out of defenders with ease due to a quick change of pace. 7/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was not getting ahead of himself, but enjoyed the win: “I am pleased because to play Stoke at this point of the season, you have to be prepared mentally and physically. It was a tough game We need to take 21 points for the title win. There are 10 games to go, today was a great win, a good signal but it is important to continue with the same commitment and work rate as a team.”

Hughes rued the loss: “We are desperately disappointed we did not get anything out of the game.It was an evenly matched game and they had late opportunities when we went for a goal. It is Chelsea’s title now and you could see from their celebrations we ran them close.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea defeat Manchester United 1-0 to set up Wembley date with Tottenham

Match Summary

Chelsea book a Wembley date against Tottenham Hotspur after seeing past Manchester United 1-0.

A solo goal by N’Golo Kante in the second half was enough to provide Antonio Conte his first taste of Wembley at the end of April, and despite the slender score-line, it was a match Chelsea dominated, with the hosts recording 73% possession and some 20 shots to the visitor’s four.

The turning point of the match will undoubtedly have been in the 35th minute when Ander Herrera took one for the team for his side’s incessant and persistent fouls on Hazard, and when Michael Oliver was generous to let Phil Jones off for the third time, the next foul on the Belgian would have been sanctioned and it was unfortunate Herrera took the brunt of it having already had a yellow to his name.

That should not take the gloss off a fine Chelsea — and indeed Manchester United in most parts — performance, against a Tottenham side keen to avenge the 5-1 loss against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final five years ago.

It was a start to the half which would have pleased Mourinho, who would no doubt have been lecturing his side repeatedly to avoid the disastrous start in the 4-0 drubbing in October.

Whilst there was no goal by Pedro after 30 seconds — namely because the Spaniard was on the bench — the match kicked into life from the off, with Manchester United adopting an aggressive man-marking approach, affording Chelsea little space and time on the ball.

Cahill was the man targetted, with the Chelsea captain not possessing the most angelic of feet, and Mkhitaryan was the first to worry Courtois, dragging a left foot shot just wide of the far post.

One man with more agile feet was Eden Hazard. Just a quarter of an hour in, the Belgian, who was tightly marked and fouled all evening, did superbly well to beat three men, turn Jones and get his shot away, only to see it expertly saved by De Gea.

From the ensuing corner, Cahill was man-handled but managed to get his shot away, again thwarted by an excellent De Gea right hand.

Seconds later Macros Alonso then sent a pile driver wide, as Manchester United were starting to be on the back foot after a strong opening.

Ander Herrera was booked for a cynical shoulder barge stopping Hazard from progressing his run, but the ball did fall to Costa, who could not capitalise on Michael Oliver’s advantage.

The Belgian then raced clean through, but his shot with his left foot was wild and sailed over the bar. Costa was then inches away from feeding a through-ball to Marcos Alonso who made a smart run down the left as Chelsea turned it up a notch.

Phil Jones then fouled Eden Hazard for the third time, and after Oliver spoke to Jones and Smalling that this would be his final chance before a yellow card, Herrera was stupid to get involved as soon as he took the free-kick, fouling Hazard again literally two seconds after Michael Oliver had warned the Manchester United team to stop the persistent fouling. Whilst Herrera’s foul was not worthy of a standalone yellow card, the irony is Jones’ fortune to escape one was Herrera’s misfortune, as Oliver was clearly ready to card anyone who next fouled the diminutive Belgian.

Chelsea had the best part of an hour left with a one man advantage, but with Fellani manning the shores, both sides trickled into the half-time break honours even, with a late Moses shot unlikely to test De Gea.

But the Blues did not have to wait long in the second half to make Mourinho pay.

A probing Chelsea attack saw Kante free in the centre of the pitch 20 yards out, and when Rojo simply kept his distance and put his hands behind his back, it invited Kante to try his hand, and try his hand he did, curling the ball expertly by De Gea, who looked unstoppable all evening.

It needed something to beat the Spaniard tonight, and this element of surprise from Kante, arguable the last Chelsea man you would expect to score, was perhaps it. The Frenchman has scored two goals for Chelsea, and both have come against the Red Devils.

Manchester United’s biggest chance then came through Marcus Rashford, who was leading the line admirably with Rooney and Ibrahimovic both out for different reasons. The Englishman collected a stray header by Luiz, ran rings around Cahill but the final shot was weak and stopped by Courtois’ legs.

Costa then had a totally free header from a corner which he failed to capitalise on, whilst Willian’s effort as we entered the final 20 minutes was harder but still concerned De Gea.

Moses and Willian worked the ball well down the right and Costa missed another sitter from one yard out, failing to sort his feet out for the tap-in, with Alonso and Hazard doing their best to recycle play.

But whilst the second goal would have made the match more comfortable for the vast majority inside Stamford Bridge, Manchester United failed to probe any more and Chelsea settled with the solo goal by N’Golo Kante.

What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Man of the Match

EDEN HAZARD: Whilst N’Golo Kante must take plaudits for another robust outing, adding to his game with the winning goal, the man who got right under Manchester United’s skin and caused the initial rattling has to be Eden Hazard. The Belgian is everywhere and at the heart of everything good Chelsea produce, as shown by how much he is fouled. He caused the visitors all sorts of problems — Herrera got sent off for his troubles — and generally oozes confidence and class, not making a meal out of a blatant stamp on his chest by Rojo. 8/10

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Manager Reaction

Conte was thrilled: “It was a good performance against a strong team with good players. United has the best squad in the league. For us we must be pleased to go into the next round.” On the persistent fouling of Hazard: “This tactic, to play by going to kick the opponent, does not exist. It is not football for me. I do not think this can be a tactic.”

Mourinho understood the congestion of his fixture list: “I just want to say that I am really proud of my players and Manchester United fans. We have a very important match on Thursday and I want to rest a little bit and prepare as best as we can.”

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Fan View

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.