Tammy Abraham made the difference as Chelsea eked out a narrow 1-0 win over Barnsley to book their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Barnsley were the brighter of the two sides in the early exchanges and indeed much of the first half, with Kepa Arrizabalaga being forced into a clutch save minutes into the game. The Tykes, though, could not make the most of their dominance and to their relief, Chelsea were also denied a penalty on two separate occasions. The half-time came without the scorers being troubled, however.
A couple of changes at half-time would bolster Chelsea’s efforts post the break and the chances gradually started flowing at a better rate. Antonio Rudiger first came within whiskers of scoring before the deadlock was broken shortly after the hour mark, when Tammy Abraham bundled the ball into the net after meeting a smart squared pass by Reece James.
Barnsley then pushed for an equaliser but was denied by Abraham on the opposite end, with the English striker nodding a goal-bound effort by Michael Sollbauer away from the goal, as a resurgent Chelsea held on to their slender advantage to progress from the FA Cup fifth round. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Thomas Tuchel’s men.
A goal at one end and a goal-line clearance at the other!
Kepa Arrizabalaga: 7/10
Back in the side in place of Mendy, this was Kepa’s chance to impress and that is exactly what he did. Forced into a save early on, Kepa got down well to deny Callum Brittain. Showed some fine composure in tight situations while making a couple of other important saves. A step in the right direction for the Spaniard, whose confidence is sure to have been boosted.
Andreas Christensen: 6/10
After sitting at the centre of the back three last time out, Christensen was moved out to the right side against Barnsley. The Dane endured some nervy moments early on but improved as the first half wore on. Won 3 duels, completed 3 tackles in addition to a couple of interceptions. However, a blow to the head meant he was taken off at half-time.
Kurt Zouma: 6/10
Back in the side after regaining his fitness, Zouma was solid for the most part, although he too was a bit wobbly in the early exchanges like many of his Chelsea teammates. Conducted play smartly, though, and was imperious in the air, winning each of the 6 aerial duels he contested. Completed 90 percent of his attempted passes.
Emerson Palmieri: 6/10
Deployed in an unfamiliar centre-back role, Emerson was not entirely uncomfortable but there were some uneasy moments. Would have hoped for better support from Marcos Alonso in the first half, but looked better with the change in system post the break. Utilised the ball smartly, though, completing 85 percent of the passes he played.
Callum Hudson-Odoi: 6/10
Reinstated in the right wing-back berth wherein he had impressed in Tuchel’s first two games in-charge of Chelsea, Hudson-Odoi did not make the best of starts to the game as he was sold short in a defensive moment before Kepa made a top class save. Involved in a promising move with Christian Pulisic, but it came to nothing. Output needs to improve.
Billy Gilmour: 7/10
Chelsea were left shocked by Barnsley’s onslaught in the first half and unsurprisingly so, Gilmour took some time finding his feet and till the time he did not do so, he proved to be wasteful on the ball. However, the Scot was much better with his output as the game went on and sent Reece James clear before he set Tammy Abraham up for the winner. Will look to build on this display next time he gets a chance.
N’Golo Kante: 7/10
Making his first start since Tuchel took charge, Kante did not make the best of starts and it was clear that he is still building up his fitness. As the game progressed, the sharpness returned and Kante slowly started doing the containing job expertly. By the end of the game, the Frenchman had won 8 duels, although his output on the ball was a tad bit disappointing.
Marcos Alonso: 5/10
Back in the side, Alonso was a mess against Barnsley on Thursday. The Spaniard hardly supported Emerson in the defensive phase and he made no impact whatsoever going forward either. Therefore, it was hardly surprising that Tuchel hooked him off for Reece James at half-time, a decision that proved to be game changing.
Hakim Ziyech: 5/10
Making his return to the starting lineup, this was a game to forget for Ziyech. The Moroccan was extremely wasteful on the ball, completing just 20 of the 31 passes he attempted while losing the possession a staggering 25 times. Yes, he did deliver a couple of key passes, including the one that Antonio Rudiger headed wide, but he really needs to do better.
Tammy Abraham: 8/10
The Player to Watch in our preview, Abraham was the man who made all the difference for Chelsea. The English international created an impact on both the ends, first scoring the goal that would be the match-winner before being smartly positioned to clear the ball out of danger when Michael Sollbauer had sent the ball towards the goal. The single biggest reason Chelsea are in the quarters.
Christian Pulisic: 6/10
A game of hits and misses for Pulisic. The USMNT international was involved in some promising moments, most notably when he enjoyed a fine exchange with Hudson-Odoi. However, for the most part, her end product was just missing. With starts not being forthcoming under Tuchel so far, Pulisic needs to pull his socks up.
Antonio Rudiger: 6/10
Sent on in place of Christensen, Rudiger slotted alongside Zouma at the heart of the Chelsea defence and defended diligently, making 4 clearances while also winning the only duel he contested. Inches away from scoring, the German was formidable in the air in the second half.
Reece James: 7/10
On for the underperforming Alonso, James took his usual place on the right wing, with Hudson-Odoi moving to the left flank. And, the English international was an upgrade over his compatriot on his side, never shying from taking on the opposition defenders while also laying on the ball for Abraham to score the winner. Put in the hard yards defensively as well. Solid work.
Faustino Anjorin: 6/10
On for Ziyech, Anjorin did not see a lot of the ball in the final 20 minutes or so, but did show some neat touches whenever he was afforded the chance to get in on the action.
Mateo Kovacic: N/A
A late introduction, Kovacic helped see the game out.
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