Chelsea's emerging talent underlines failings of Mourinho
Chelsea 2-0 Scunthorpe
Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30
Jose Mourinho oversaw such a spectacular collapse at Chelsea this season that, beneath all the defeats, rants and controversies, perhaps the most depressing element of his second tenure at the club became almost buried.
It was an apparent reluctance to follow through on the very obvious desire of the club to finally see some of their best home-grown talent being given regular first-team experience.
One of the brightest young prospects is Ruben Loftus-Cheek and, having played only a handful of minutes since being substituted by Mourinho at half-time of the win against Aston Villa in October, he delivered a performance here to suggest that he is now ready for a sustained opportunity.
His first Chelsea goal was to not only seal the club's path into the FA Cup fourth round but, judging by the celebrations and ear-to-ear smile, was clearly also a source of huge personal delight to owner Roman Abramovich.
Loftus-Cheek (pictured) is now 19 but joined the club at the age of eight and, following FA Youth Cup wins in 2012 and 2014, a Premier League U-21 title in 2014 and last year's Uefa Europa League triumphs, is part of an emerging group of Chelsea players who are regarded as the outstanding young crop in the country.
His development has coincided entirely with an academy investment by Abramovich that is now estimated at well beyond £100m and it is obvious that one of the priorities for the next manager will be to continue integrating these players into the first-team. The last home-grown regular remains captain John Terry.
"That's one of the objectives of the club," said interim manager Guus Hiddink. "It's normal if you have this academy with that investment in young players. I'm starting to know the young players better and see the possibilities they have but it's difficult to know when to bring them on.
"You don't want to give them too much responsibility for the result at this stage of their careers. It was a beautiful goal."
Hiddink won the FA Cup in his one previous entry into the competition and, in only resting Terry and Thibaut Courtois from what might have been his strongest starting team, underlined Chelsea's "determination" to end this most traumatic of seasons with a trophy. Their purposeful start was rewarded in the 13th minute when Branislav Ivanovic's cross bounced between Scott Laird and Jordan Clarke. The two Scunthorpe players hesitated, with Diego Costa stabbing out his foot to get the final touch and put Chelsea into the lead.
It looked as if Chelsea might canter to victory but their League One opposition settled into a rhythm and posed plenty of first-half threat.
Gary Cahill headed a fierce Stephen Dawson shot to safety and then Kurt Zouma made a vital tackle on Paddy Madden. Scunthorpe might also have won a penalty early in the second half when Ramires tripped Kevin van Veen, although there was some doubt over whether the first contact was inside the area. Replays suggested it was just inside.
"Seeing the replays, it was nailed on," said Scunthorpe manager Mark Robins.
"We're disappointed - you need the rub of green and we didn't get it."
There was never the slightest hint of Scunthorpe being overawed by the fixture although Chelsea's quality did tell.
A sweeping move that began with Fabregas releasing Willian was brilliantly finished when Cesar Azpilicueta overlapped down the left and then crossed for Loftus-Cheek to convert clinically at the near-post past Luke Daniels.
With Eden Hazard out for at least another week and Nemanja Matic rested after becoming dizzy when he was hit on the head by a ball in a freak training ground incident on Saturday, Loftus-Cheek also has a good chance of being involved in the Premier League fixture against West Brom on Wednesday.
Scunthorpe, though, were still not completely finished by the second goal and, after Van Veen had rippled the side-netting with a free-kick, Jordan Clarke also had a thunderous late strike tipped onto the post by Asmir Begovic.
It was too late to salvage something from the game but Scunthorpe's performance certainly won Chelsea's respect, with Terry later inviting their players into the home dressing-room to exchange shirts.
"Some of their staff thought this had similar flavour to Bradford last year," said Robins, referring to Chelsea's shock 4-2 defeat against Bradford.
"I'm proud. It's been tough times for people of Scunthorpe but to have a healthy thriving football club is something we're going to get. The week has been brilliant for Scunthorpe as a town and club."