The 99th goal of Eden Hazard’s illustrious Chelsea career has sent us into our 14th League Cup semi-final where we will play Tottenham over two legs.
He did not start the game but the Belgian had a decisive impact when he came on, and spared the sell-out Stamford Bridge crowd the tension of a penalty shoot-out that was looking increasingly likely before he found the net with six minutes left on the clock, a goal which also owed a lot to the attacking quickness of thought and foot of Pedro.
Under the Carabao Cup rules, these ties go straight to a penalty shoot-out with no extra-time played if all-square, and as both sides strove for the breakthrough in 90 minutes, it was Bournemouth’s defence and keeper who were certainly the busier, in the first half especially when Willian was denied on more than one occasion, and Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley had good attempts saved. But the Cherries had their moments too, albeit fewer of them. Kepa Arrizabalaga saved well before the interval.
For this quarter-final in a busy December there were six changes to the side from the win at Brighton, but still plenty of strength and experience in the selection. Giroud began up front for the first time in five games.
Bournemouth also made half-a-dozen changes from their weekend defeat at Wolves. One of those was Artur Boruc, in goal in place of Asmir Begovic, and he had to make an early near-post block and a more central save from two speculative Willian efforts.
While those initial saves were comfortable for the Polish keeper, he had to dive full length to keep out a right-footer from Ross Barkley which was the product of a powerful advance by Ruben-Loftus-Cheek, today in a wide-right role in attack, the position he adopted when introduced for Pedro at Brighton on Sunday.
It was all Chelsea in the opening 15 minutes. A flowing move down the right, with Giroud overlapping, looked to have set up Willian in a central position but his shot was blocked, and then Bournemouth mounted their first proper attack which was sprung when Toni Rudiger misjudged a challenge on halfway. Fortunately Callum Wilson, back in the Cherries’ starting 11 after injury, flashed wide.
Chelsea regained control and Boruc was busy again keeping out a Giroud drive after he had linked up skilfully with Willian.
On 30 minutes it was the Brazilian served with a shooting chance, this time following a break from our own half manufactured by Mateo Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek. Willian tried to lift the ball over Boruc but the keeper saved with a stretch, as did Kepa five minutes later when Lys Mousset struck a Bournemouth shot sweetly from the edge of the area. In that brief period, both sides had manufactured their best chances of the opening period.
Further shots were blocked as a half came to a close which although it had yielded no goals, lacked neither efforts at the target nor action for the goalkeepers.
The Blues began the second half as dominant as we had been at the start of the first, with Loftus-Cheek especially prominent. One storming burst forward and shot cracked just wide had the crowd chanting ‘Rubey, Rubey’.
Even so, there was an early shuffling of the pack with Pedro brought on for Willian and Hazard, who had recovered from his weekend knock, for Barkley.
Hazard rapidly induced a serious piece of shirt-pulling and a yellow card for defender Jack Simpson, before he and Fabregas shot over.
Bournemouth were appealing strongly for a penalty on 74 minutes when Azpilicueta threw himself in the way of a Wilson shot. Tonight VAR was with us to clear it up. Chest not hand. No penalty.
There were seven minutes left on the clock when the breakthrough our overall dominance had deserved came, and the two attacking subs had done their job. Pedro initiated the move with a pass to Hazard who gave the return and cut inside. When Pedro moved the ball on, Emerson sensibly left it for the Belgian who fired in via the arm of Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels. Perhaps a penalty if the ball hadn’t gone in, but this time VAR could relax.
Boruc did well to keep out stoppage-time shots from Emerson and Giroud, and we survived a big goalmouth scramble from a free-kick after time had appeared to run out on the clock. A single goal proved enough to defeat the Cherries at this stage in this venue for the second year running.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Christensen (David Luiz 81), Emerson, Kovacic, Fabregas, Barkley (Hazard 61), Loftus-Cheek, Giroud, Willian (Pedro 55).
Unused subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Kante, Hudson-Odoi,
Scorer Hazard 84
Booked Fabregas 60
Bournemouth (3-5-2): Boruc; S Cook (c), Simpson, Daniels, Ibe, Stanislas (Fraser 63), Brooks (Defoe 88), Ake, Rico, Wilson, Mousset (King 73).
Unused subs Travers, Mings, Surman, Pugh.
Booked Stanislas 56, Simpson 65
Referee Anthony Taylor