Chelsea progressed into the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Championship side Middlesbrough on Saturday. Blues fans haven’t had too many reasons to be positive of late due to their ownership woes, but their improved chances of winning silverware will give them something to shout about.
Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring for the Blues in the 15th minute when he tapped home from close range after Mason Mount delivered a perfect pass from out on the right into the path of the Belgian. Hakim Ziyech then doubled the Blues’ lead against the run of play in the 31st minute when the Morrocan was given the time and space to cut onto his right foot and fire past Lumley – who will feel he could have done better.
Middlesbrough did dominate some periods of the tie, but they never managed to truly trouble goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and the Blues looked a class above their opposition. Here, Express Sport assesses four things we learned from Chelsea’s victory at the Riverside Stadium.
Cup rotation Lukaku
Although he was on the scoresheet, Lukaku was rather absent throughout his 84 minutes against Boro. The former Inter Milan forward somewhat justified why he has become a cup rotation player at Stamford Bridge rather than one of the first names on the team sheet, which his £97.5million price tag that suggested he would be.
In Kai Havertz, Tuchel has a forward that is happy to drop deeper and link up the play which certainly suits his system. But that isn’t the case with Lukaku.
The 28-year-old lacks the pace to run in behind and be an outlet in that respect, though his target man qualities have also raised questions since returning to the Premier League. Cup competitions are the perfect way for Lukaku to get back to his very best and continue adapting to Tuchel’s system.
However, it remains to be seen whether the striker is content with being a squad rotation player. Although he can compete for all types of silverware at Chelsea, he was being referred to as one of the best no.9’s on the planet and thus sitting on the bench for league fixtures may not be enough.
Sarr struggled in left back
Middlesbrough’s biggest threat was Isaiah Jones, and the 22-year-old’s continual influence on the match highlighted that Malang Sarr still is not entirely comfortable in left-back. Since breaking into the first team, the Frenchman has impressed on the left side of a back three, but playing him as a makeshift fullback is where he struggled.
Jones’ accolade of skills and sudden acceleration caused Sarr plenty of issues, and the defender coped to an extent. However, on another night the former Nice defender may have cost his side and Tuchel may need to put more faith in Marcos Alonso against more lethal teams.
With Chelsea’s centre-back crisis on the horizon, with Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta out of contract in the summer, Sarr is certainly one to be relied on next season when deployed in his preferred position. Thiago Silva, Trevoh Chalobah and Sarr look a readymade back three for Tuchel.
Mason Mount assisted both goals for Chelsea and was crucial in the victory. The England international was given the freedom to roam in behind Lukaku and able to drift out wide and create a lot of space for his teammates.
Previously, Mount has been deployed in a deeper central role and his performance against Boro showed that he is certainly seen to best effect as a no.10. His energy, creativity and goal scoring prowess – though not showcased on Saturday night – is what makes him such an impressive playmaker for the Blues.
Mount’s desire to run the channels and drift outwide certainly brings the very best out in Ziyech as well. The former Ajax star benefits from having Mount overlapping him, meaning he is able to either cut inside or work an opening with his teammate – one of which led to Ziyech’s goal.
Arteta’s decision justified
When Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta decided to let Folarin Balogun go out on loan to Boro rather have him as a squad option at the Emirates, eyebrows were raised. Although the 20-year-old has rarely featured for the Gunners, the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has left the London outfit short in the final third.
But the manner in which Balogun struggled against Chelsea showed why he was not ready to feature regularly for Arsenal. The English youngster could not deal with the power of Thiago Silva and Rudiger in central defence, nor was he able to break through the lines when attempting to run in behind.
Balogun will certainly benefit from this loan move to Chris Wilder’s side, but he may need another spell in the Championship before becoming an important asset for Arteta.