Sign Walters up and hungry Hazard – Five things we learned from Chelsea's cup exit
It was another disappointing night for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and here is what we learned from the shoot-out defeat to Stoke City.
1. Chelsea cared for the Cup
It was the League Cup that gave Mourinho his first trophy in England. The same pot brought the first silverware of his current tenure too and here it brought some much-needed respite.
Even before kick-off his selection had underlined that this really did matter. It was after all a game he could barely afford to lose.
Hence, whereas in the previous round at Walsall, there were opportunities for fringe players Radamel Falcao, Loic Remy – who got the equaliser here – Kenedy and Baba Rahman, this was no time for changes.
Chelsea had won just one and lost three of their six games since then so this was no moment to tinker, although it was telling that there was no place for Cesc Fabregas. One question that Stamford Bridge regulars have been asking of late is why the 28-year-old has managed to be an ever present in the Premier League this season, despite a string of underwhelming performances. He has started every league game yet at West Ham was taken off at half-time and paid the price here when he did not even make the bench.
2. Hazard highlights hunger
Last season’s Footballer of the Year has failed to reach his lofty standards this season but he could not be faulted for a lack of effort here.
He was involved in much of Chelsea’s best work in the first half, from the moment he surged past three Stoke shirts and set up an early chance for Diego Costa.
The Belgian worked hard, and in the face of one or two robust challenges, kept on trying the little twists away from opponents and flicks to team-mates. It was not just Hazard – Chelsea showed an appetite for the battle which suggests they are still playing for their manager.
For much of the match it seemed they would not get their reward, through missed chances and wrong decisions, but eventually it came with Loic Remy’s late equaliser.
3. Baba’s mixed night
Amid an underwhelming summer of transfer business at Stamford Bridge, the signing of Baba Rahman for £14m from German club Augsburg hardly had pulses quickening.
The sight of Alan Hutton skinning him on his first league start against Aston Villa did not augur well either and this was a mixed evening for a player reportedly brought to Chelsea on the recommendation of technical director Michael Emenalo.
To his credit Rahman got forward to put Ramires clear for Chelsea’s best chance of the first half but he was also guilty of a moment of naivety in the first half when keeping the ball in play on his goalline and conceding the free-kick from which Charlie Adam nearly gave Chelsea the lead.
4. Stoke banking on Butland
Before kick-off Gordon Banks was among the members of Stoke’s 1972 League Cup-winning side presented to the home crowd. The World Cup winner will have enjoyed what he saw from Stoke’s latest England goalkeeper, Jack Butland.
On the night Asmir Begovic returned to the Potteries, Butland showed why he is proving a more than able replacement for the Bosnian international. He stuck out a leg to foil Diego Costa early in the match and also denied Hazard and Oscar in a first half controlled by the Londoners.
As for Begovic, he is having a less happy time at the Bridge. He saved well from Walters in the first half but could do nothing about the Irish international’s goal – when his cause was not helped by Gary Cahill’s failure to get close to the striker. It was another of the little defensive lapses that have added up for Chelsea this term and as a result it means his eight away games as a Chelsea player have brought just one clean sheet.
5. Sign Walters up!
Is there a harder-working striker in the top division than Jon Walters? The Stoke striker’s sixth goal for club and country this season was certainly spectacular but this is a player who will do the dirty work all night long in the cause of his team.
Ten years ago he was playing for Wrexham yet at 32, he can ruffle the feathers of the best. He might have had another goal too when shooting just over.
Walters is in the final year of his contract and yet to agree a new deal and if not at Stoke, he could surely do a job for a long list of other clubs.
(© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service