MATCH REPORT: DERBY COUNTY 0 CHELSEA 2
John Mikel Obi celebrated his 300th Chelsea appearance with his fourth goal for the club, which was added to by Oscar as the Blues scored twice in the second half to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The game in the East Midlands bore several similarities to our New Year's Day outing at Southampton. Against Derby we had the better chances in the first half without being dominant but with Jose Mourinho having made two second-half substitutions, once we were in front, there was little doubt the game would be won and more goals were always on the cards. Ramires hit woodwork twice in the game.
Next up in this competition is a home all-Premier League tie against Stoke.
It was the first time all four of our Brazilians started the same game, with Oscar and Willian, so influential when they came on in the second half at Southampton, retained and Ramires pushed forward, allowing Eden Hazard a well-earned afternoon among the subs. Samuel Eto'o led the attack.
Derby had lost two players to injury and their replacements were the only changes to Steve McClaren's side from the one that lost to Wigan midweek. Simon Dawkins came into the attack in place of Johnny Russell and Jeff Hendrick into midfield for Craig Bryson.
There was a fitting atmosphere inside the stadium for the start of the FA Cup campaign for these two clubs, with the 5,500-strong Chelsea support behind one goal more than matching the home fans for noise, and on the pitch the Blues settled the quicker but with little to show for it in terms of pressure other than a couple of advances by Eto'o into the Rams' penalty area.
Derby were the first to work up sustained pressure, and it needed Ashley Cole to cut out a dangerous low cross into our six-yard area on 12 minutes. Soon after Cesar Azpilicueta covered inside to sweep away another attack by the home side and a firmly struck shot from John Eustace from outside the area was blocked by David Luiz.
It took a composed Mikel intervention to set Chelsea attacking again, taking the ball off advancing centre-back Michael Keane and sending Eto'o away down the inside-left channel, but disappointingly the Cameroonian didn't release a shot in time to evade the challenges from two retreating Derby players.
There was a similar and decisive delay a few minutes later when David Luiz gave the ball away to Jamie Ward. The Derby winger's dithering allowed Gary Cahill to move into position to block the effort when it did arrive.
In the minutes prior to that, Chelsea had played our best football of the game so far, keeping the ball and manoeuvring it around the final third with purpose, but it took a foul by Eustace at the cost of a booking to give us the next opportunity to shoot. From the free-kick, Oscar's sweet strike was a whisker away from breaking the deadlock.
Running into space five minutes later, the Brazilian hit a shot on the run from 30 yards that again went very close.
Eustace shot straight at Schwarzer when well-positioned, wasteful for the home side but they were improving again with the half now inside its final 10 minutes. Chelsea's cause in keeping them back was not helped by David Luiz's worsening condition. He had been limping to a degree since an early block tackle.
Oscar made it three attempts from distance with a shot over the bar and Chelsea finished the first period strongly. Willian crossed too high for the head of Eto'o with Derby stretched at the back and then into stoppage time Ramires hit the post with a low, angled shot, possibly with a slight deflection.
No goals but it had been an engaging cup-tie so far.
David Luiz began the second-half moving more easily than before the break and Mourinho's men continued on the front foot, but Oscar's pass into the danger zone could have been better after Willian had split the defence with a pass.
Ward struck a good free-kick for Derby after a Mikel foul but it cleared Schwarzer's bar before the first substitution of the game was made. Hazard replaced Essien on 54 minutes with Ramires dropping deeper in midfield. Mikel took over as skipper and was soon making an important contribution, tracking Andre Wisdom's overlapping burst into the box and sliding in to deny the full-back a shot.
One of the best moves of the game, started by a clever David Luiz header and advanced by Willian and Hazard, took the Blues from one end to the other in a flash but Derby had men to block out Cole's shot. It had been the home team playing more on the counter-attack before then.
Torres replaced Eto'o on 63 minutes but it was a less likely source that finally broke the deadlock.
Hazard, doing what he does best, won a free-kick on the left and it was left to Willian to fire a free-kick into the goalmouth. The delivery didn't disappoint and Mikel thumped a header past Lee Grant from five yards out to send the Chelsea fans behind that goal into a frenzy.
A booking for Ramires for diving rather than a penalty given was the result of a surging run into the area moments later but it didn't take long for the advantage to double.
Oscar finally got his reward for his shooting power all game when he worked space and drilled the ball past Grant from the edge of the box after a Torres lay-off, the keeper's attempt to keep it out a questionable one.
Torres was twice denied a goal, the first time by defender Forsyth after the striker had already sidestepped the keeper, and then by a save from Grant. Ramires then struck a shot that bounced off the top of the bar with the Blues now rampant.
Schwarzer had little do in the second half but he did make one good save to keep out Chris Martin's 84th-minute shot and substitute Mason Bennett fired just wide. But time was running out fast for the home team who had been well-beaten in the second half.
There was time before the end however for Mourinho to give 18-year-old midfielder Lewis Baker his debut.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Azpilicueta, Cahill, D Luiz, Cole; Essien (c) (Hazard 55), Mikel; Ramires, Oscar (Baker 87), Willian; Eto'o (Torres 63).
Unused subs Cech, Kalas Terry, Mata.
Scorers Mikel 65, Oscar 71.
Booked Ramires 68
Derby (4-3-3): Grant; Wisdom, Keane, Buxton (c), Forsyth; Hughes, Eustace (Bennett 69), Hendrick; Ward (Sammon 69), Martin, Dawkins (Bailey 82).
Unused subs Legzdins, Whitbread, Cisse, Freeman.
Booked Eustace 29, Hughes 59.
Referee Andre Marriner