Game 40/60: Liverpool vs Chelsea
The big games kept rolling in even after the change in month as Chelsea visited Anfield to play reigning champions Liverpool. The Reds, while enjoying a good first half of the season, had seen a calamitous downfall in recent weeks. Their home record of being unbeaten on their own turf for almost four years was dismantled by Burnley back in January and ever since they were on a losing run at home beyond what anyone could’ve expected. It was so bad in fact that, with a loss to Chelsea on a Thursday night, they would set an unwanted club record for the most defeats at home in a row in their entire history.
Once again, Thomas Tuchel’s team put out their now expected defensive display, limiting the opposition to just one shot on target, that being a shocking Sadio Mane miss midway through the first half as he kicked through the air from an astonishingly good Mohammed Salah through ball. Prior to that chance, however, there was plenty of action at the other end as a certain Timo Werner went through a rollercoaster of emotions. A Jorginho ball over the top was met by the run of the German who instinctively tipped it past Alisson who came sprinting out and all he had to do was tap the ball into a now open net.
All seemed well until the dreaded VAR review came over the tannoy and an agonising wait while the lines came out was set in motion. In stunning fashion, those at Stockley Park decided that he was in fact offside, despite the only part of his body further than the last man in Andy Robertson being his arm which many Twitter users helpfully reminded the officials could not be scored with and therefore should not be used to determine offside. Thankfully, the Blues had an excellent mentality and fought back from injustice, with a second high ball finding Mason Mount out on the left hand side of the penalty area.
He cut into the middle, getting past Fabinho before firing a rocket of a shot into the bottom right corner, wheeling off in celebration at what was a fantastic goal for the 22-year-old. Bar a few minor chances, that was the last big moment of the game – despite it coming in the first half – and even though the focus was inevitably on Liverpool, the victory sent Chelsea up to 4th in one big leap for their Champions League qualification hopes.
Game 40/60: Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea
Game 41/60: Chelsea vs Everton
It was another Merseyside opponent again and, in a remarkable coincidence, it was the exact same fixture, down to the date, that Chelsea played a year before in their final match with a full stadium of supporters. That sight appeared a long way off, although the country was at the time beginning to ease some very basic restrictions which would eventually lead to a brief return of fans late on in the campaign. As for the Monday night fixture against Everton, the Blues appeared to be on an unstoppable roll of not conceding and hence not even coming close to losing a game.
Thus far it was 8 clean sheets out of 10 games for the boss, which included some very tough opponents in Man United, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. Everton were also no mean feat with former boss Ancelotti in charge at the Toffees, although yet again the Chelsea defence stood strong and only once was Mendy forced to make a save. After a quiet first half an hour, the opener came following a mazy Hudson-Odoi run which Havertz attempted to tap in goalwards but his effort spun off his boot, only to be unwittingly diverted into the net by Ben Godfrey. The German midfielder was unfortunate not to be credited with the goal, as it was his shot that led to the own goal but as he said afterwards, the team comes first in situations like this. Pickford made a great save ten minutes later, somehow reaching an Alonso toe poke which seemed destined to nestle in the bottom corner, but the England number one did his job superbly well.
Havertz thought he’d got a goal undeniably for himself as he swivelled swiftly on the spot to fire a volley in but VAR came in to ruin the day again, claiming that he had committed a handball offence, despite the ball hitting him on the bicep. This appeared to rattle Chelsea very briefly as Richarlison got in behind, although he failed to keep his composure and sent a shot off target. Not one to be denied being involved though, Havertz raced into the box from an Alonso through ball and the moment Pickford brought him down it was a definite penalty, leaving the referee no choice whatsoever. Jorginho did the rest, calmly slotting past Pickford and that was enough to see out the game and keep Chelsea in the much coveted Top Four places that they desired.
Game 41/60: Chelsea 2-0 Everton
Game 42/60: Leeds vs Chelsea
A rather more frustrating affair came next for the Blues as they travelled to Elland Road in search of another win, boosting their position in the top four even further. However, as often seems to happen with the early kick off on a Saturday, the supposed favourites were limited by their opponents, although a draw with Leeds, who had a far better season than many might’ve expected, is not something to be too disappointed with looking back now, though it felt infuriating at the time. Leeds played with their usual tenacity, hassling Chelsea to their heart’s content and forever disrupting their attacks to the point where it seemed the game could continue for hours more and they would never find the back of the net.
It was the opening 20 minutes which saw the most action, as Leeds had a goal ruled out for offside, a failed Leeds clearance came off one of their own defenders and hit the bar before Leeds themselves then hit the bar at the other end just minutes later. Chelsea’s best chance came early in the second half when Havertz made space for himself to be one on one with Meslier who ended up making a smart but comfortable enough stop, much to the annoyance of Tuchel who felt, like many others, that the German should’ve scored. As games involving Bielsa’s side often were during the season, it was extremely end to end with both sides enjoying a plethora of opportunities, forcing keepers at either end into multiple saves. Mendy got down low with astonishing agility to save from Raphinia and saved with 10 minutes to go on the clock after Rodrgio fired a free header towards the goal.
While the game did indeed provide great entertainment, there were no converted chances – a surprise given the amount created – and neither Tuchel or Bielsa looked satisfied with the result at full time, given the fact their respective teams had underperformed on their ‘Expected Goals’ (a metric rather like marmite – people love it or hate it) to a shockingly large degree. Still, Chelsea remained in the all important Top Four positions and Leeds had hopes of finishing top half as well so, while not the best result by any stretch of the imagination, there was a general consensus of acceptance at the outcome from most.
Game 42/60: Leeds 0-0 Chelsea
Game 43/60: Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid
Three weeks on from Chelsea’s 1-0 victory in Romania for the first leg of a round of 16 Champions League tie, the team were back at Stamford Bridge for the second leg of this monumental matchup. While the one goal lead was no doubt imperative to calming some nerves, it still left the door very much open to exploitation from a hungry Luis Suarez, partnered up with the likes of Joao Felix and Carrasco. Many expected the Spanish side to push up more than they cared to do so in the first leg and, while there wasn’t a repeat of the seven-man defence seen before, it was still remarkably negative from Atletico, given the loss at stake by sitting back.
That said, when they did go forwards they did so swiftly and sharply, worrying Chelsea fans on more than one occasion. Around 26 minutes in, a through ball looked to be dealt with easily by Azplicueta, but he failed to put enough pace on the ball to give the ball to Mendy and, in a rush of blood, pulled on the back of Carrasco’s shirt, only for the referee to view it as not enough to go down and wave play on. A moment of luck, perhaps, but given the overall outcome of the game, most would agree that it was largely insignificant, if confusing at the time. While the man in the middle was reluctant to give penalties, he certainly wasn’t refraining from yellow cards as he continually flashed the warning colours to both sides for seemingly minor infractions – though as the game went on, the away side did go over the top more than once, a sign of their frustration.
This was conjured up by the fact the Blues doubled their lead half an hour in, from a slick counter attack following an Atletico Madrid free kick. Havertz picked up the ball and raced forwards, playing Timo Werner down the wing with space to run before finally passing across the box to the feet of Ziyech who, albeit with some luck, fired the ball through Oblak’s legs, making Chelsea’s aggregate lead a great deal more secure. A Joao Felix stinger was deflected and allowed Mendy to claim comfortably – the final major chance before the half time whistle and a sign for Chelsea that their defensive stability was holding up, with only another 45 minutes to go. The real domination from the home side in this game came from the midfield, in particular N’Golo Kante who, in typical Kante fashion, simply never, ever stopped running in what can only be described as a superhuman effort.
Not once did the Frenchman miss a tackle, or an interception, or a pass and he utterly controlled the middle third of the pitch, along with Mateo Kovacic, who also had an excellent game. Chelsea had chances in the second half to totally kill the game off, notably from Werner and Ziyech who both forced saves from the Atletico keeper who was, ironically, his team’s best player, despite the fact they would go on to lose by three goals on aggregate. As the game progressed, it got more and more scrappy, with Simeone’s team lashing out in annoyance at an increasingly frequent rate. Nevertheless, the Chelsea players remained stoic and in the 81st minute they were delighted to see the back of Stefan Savic, sent off for a frankly idiotic elbow into Rudiger’s chest. From Atletico’s point of view, it was total stupidity, especially as they had been looking close to getting a goal back in the ten minutes prior to the sending off, with Joao Felix looking the most likely to create something.
The Portugese striker kept pushing his team, right until injury time and he again came close, forcing yet another save from Mendy, though by that point it seemed fairly inevitable that the Blues simply wouldn’t be scored against. A couple of Chelsea substitutions sought to run the clock down, with lesser-seen defenders such as Emerson arriving on the pitch to see out the last minute, as managers tend to do when holding a lead. And yet, while they did do exactly that, it was in the most incredible fashion you could ever imagine, as a Chelsea break saw Pulisic smartly pass left to the Italian left back and with his first touch after coming on he smashed the ball into the back of the net, causing wild celebrations around the stadium. I say around the stadium because, as mentioned a few weeks ago, Mount and Jorginho were both suspended due to yellow cards picked up in the first leg, and Thiago Silva was injured, so the three players missing out were sat in the stands together.
When the second goal of the night went in, having seen Silva shouting down instructions, reminiscent of Ronaldo in the Euro 2016 final, a fantastic shot of the trio was broadcast as they ran down the stairs and embraced in a moment of pure joy. It was that picture which summarised the incredible feeling around this game – Chelsea, who were by far the underdogs going into this game against the La Liga leaders, had won by a three goal margin on aggregate and hadn’t conceded a goal to such a potent attacking threat in Luis Suarez. This was by far the biggest win under Thomas Tuchel so far, and it was after this round of 16 victory that many began to feel going all the way might just be possible after all.
Game 43/60: Chelsea 2-0 Atletico Madrid
(Aggregate: Chelsea 3-0 Atletico Madrid)
Game 44/60: Chelsea vs Sheffield United
Following such a huge game, it was perhaps apt that another cup competition came around, just with a far smaller opponent (no offence to Sheffield United, of course). The Blades were having a miserable time of it, remaining dead last in the league and seemingly quite shocked themselves that they had even managed to make it to the quarter final stage of the FA Cup. Despite their poor form in the league, this was clearly a refreshing change from the status quo for Paul Heckingbottom’s side, who had taken over from Chris Wilder a few days before. That change was evidenced in the way the away side played at Stamford Bridge, with very little fear being shown by any of the players as they gave their all in the only competition where they had something to play for still, with their Premier League relegation all but confirmed.
An early chance for McGoldrick was surprisingly not taken advantage of, with the Irish striker typically getting into fine form when playing the Blues. After a quiet opening first quarter of the game, the opening goal was a lucky one whereby a Chilwell shot, going well wide, was deflected into the Sheffield United net by Norwood who lay face down on the field, bewildered by what had just happened. For a cup quarter final, the game’s chances were few and far between for both sides, with Chelsea perhaps still recovering from the exhilaration of Wednesday night and Sheffield United being, well, Sheffield United. Christian Pulisic had a good chance to double the lead but Ramsdale was equal to his attempted chip effort and again after half time the American was unlucky to not to score having gone round two defenders effortlessly only to see his shot saved again.
The Blades had a brief flurry of opportunities, with McGoldrick somehow missing a header into a virtually open goal and McBurnie sending his effort too close to Kepa in goal. Much admiration must be given to Sheffield United for the way they did come out, particularly in the second half, seeking to disrupt the seemingly guaranteed victory for Tuchel’s side but in the end their efforts weren’t quite enough. A second goal for the Blues in injury time, courtesy of Ziyech taking one touch before smashing the ball home, meant Chelsea would be heading for an FA Cup semi final once again – something that had become very familiar to the side from West London in recent years.
After the cup game, an international break ensued and saw England start their world cup qualifying group with three wins. One was against the lowly San Marino and featured Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount, with all three getting assists in a 5-0 win. A victory against Albania saw Mount get a goal and then a tight 2-1 overcoming of Poland saw a third start for Mount, along with one for Chilwell as well as Reece James coming off the bench to see out the win in an all round successful international break for English Blues.
Game 44/60: Chelsea 2-0 Sheffield United
Games Played: 5
Games Won: 4
Games Drawn: 1
Games Lost: 0
Month in three words: Cup Competition Connoisseurs.
Written by Noah Robson (@Noahr24_)
Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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