Chelsea ensured that lightning did not strike twice by overcoming a narrow first-leg deficit to beat Middlesbrough at home and reach this year’s Carabao Cup final. The Blues were stunned in the reverse fixture at the Riverside but recovered by pulling off a 6-1 rout to book their visit to Wembley, where they will face either Fulham or Liverpool next month.
Express Sport takes a look at some of the biggest talking points from tonight’s game at Stamford Bridge…
Tactical tweak pays dividends
Cole Palmer was deployed as a false nine in the first leg at the Riverside but took up a deeper role at Stamford Bridge, which paid dividends for Chelsea in the final third. It allowed Palmer to show off his creative skills to a greater degree, with the 21-year-old often dictating the tempo for the Blues in and around the penalty area.
He was rewarded with two goals either side of the break, capitalising on a defensive error for his first and guiding the ball home from close range for his second to put Chelsea out of sight. Palmer grew in confidence as the game went on and was arguably his side’s best performer, with the decision to move him in behind Broja proving to be an inspired one.
Sterling pulls the strings
Raheem Sterling was largely anonymous in the first leg against Middlesbrough but, thankfully for Chelsea, he managed to put things right at the second time of asking. He was heavily involved in all of their first three goals but his inch-perfect cross to set up Axel Disasi for Chelsea’s third of the match was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch.
On a night that Chelsea needed their senior players to stand up and be counted, Sterling did exactly that and his performance went a long way to allowing the Blues to hit their stride in the attacking third. His next task will be to carry his momentum through over the coming weeks, given that he has been largely inconsistent over the course of this season.
Chilwell back with a bang
Ben Chilwell marked his return to Chelsea’s starting line-up for the first time in four months with an influential display on the left flank. The England ace nearly opened the scoring with a header in the early stages before turning creator when he slid through Raheem Sterling with a defence-splitting pass in the build-up to Chelsea’s first goal.
Chilwell’s relentless running and tenacious approach also seemed to rub off on his team-mates, who quickly gained control of the match after initially making a sloppy start. With his injury problems now behind him, it would not be a surprise to see Chilwell emerge as a key man for the Blues this season if he can perform to a similar level on a weekly basis.
Pressure? What pressure?
All of the pressure was firmly on Chelsea’s players ahead of kick-off, with the Blues on the verge of a seismic upset after their shambolic defeat at Middlesbrough six days ago. However, they were undeterred by the occasion and showed the right character to overturn the deficit and save the blushes of their manager.
Mauricio Pochettino will have been delighted with the response from his side, who cantered into a huge lead before the break and managed the game exceptionally well as the clock ticked down. Could it have been the turning point that Chelsea have been crying out for all season? Only time will tell, but Pochettino will certainly be hoping for things to continue in the same way.