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Match report: Walsall 1 Chelsea 4

It is three wins in eight days for the Blues with first goals of the season from Ramires and Loic Remy, the maiden strike of Kenedy’s young Chelsea career, and a late Pedro goal beginning our defence of the Capital One Cup.

Much of the tension that may have increased against the League One side in their sold-out and compact stadium was dissipated by an early Chelsea goal. The lead was doubled not long before half-time but the contest was kept bubbling when the home side’s James O’Connor halved the deficit just before the interval.

The Blues' quick and determined attacking play paid off when Kenedy restored the two-goal advantage not long after the restart, although we had to wait until added time to totally put the game to bed. The overall feeling was one of satisfaction on the final whistle, especially given some promising contributions from young players.

There was plenty of experience in the Chelsea starting line-up, not least at the back where John Terry made his 650th start. Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic were also included in front of Asmir Begovic with Baba Rahman the one fresher face in defence.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ramires played ahead of John Mikel Obi in a three-man midfield with the attack made up by Falcao beginning a Chelsea game for the first time, and Loic Remy wide on the right and Kenedy on the left. It was the Brazilian’s first Blues start too.

Walsall were without their main striker Tom Bradshaw so Jordan Cook led their line with Milan Lalkovic, an FA Youth Cup winner with Chelsea, on the left flank.  

Falcao chased an early pass from Mikel into the area but was just beaten to it by the goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, an ex-Chelsea schoolboy, who was worked three minutes later by Ramires with a low shot after a raid down the left by Loftus-Cheek and Kenedy.

Lalkovic tried to use his pace against Ivanovic inside the first 10 minutes but was forced to check back by the Serbian’s close attention.

The game quickly returned to a flow of blue shirts towards the Walsall goal and with the clock ticking onto 10 minutes played, our two Brazilians on the pitch combined for an early opening goal. Kenedy had shown plenty of threat with his speed and constant movement already, and it was a peach of a cross from his left boot that Ramires headed home from close-range at the far post.

Ramires was at the heart of the next good Chelsea chance made – breaking down the middle after Walsall were caught out and sending a pass forward. It was a touch over-hit so Falcao had to lift the ball over the keeper first time but a slight contact gave O’Connor the chance to clear off the line.

Lalkovic did get away from Ivanovic on 25 minutes and shot low and hard but wide. Walsall were having a better spell, as it was always likely they would at some stage, and Terry was spoken to after fouling Sam Mantom but the free-kick slammed into the Chelsea wall. Jason Demetriou crossed a ball behind the Chelsea defence but Begovic was alert to the danger and claimed it.

Chelsea had been a little loose in possession for a few minutes but Mikel stepped it up with a great pass over the top that Falcao brought down, shimmied to make space wide of the keeper but again was denied by O’Connor back in his goal on the post. An off-balance Remy drove the rebound over.

Mikel was booked for handball before his fellow midfielder Loftus-Cheek, involved frequently, played a ball inside the full-back that led to a Baba cross. Falcao had been tracked in the middle and was challenged well. The wait for a second goal lasted only a minute more and what an emphatic finish it was too, Remy smashing the ball across the keeper and high into the net after collecting a Ramires pass just inside the area.  

A two-goal lead would have been a fair reflection of the game at the interval but the half ended with an upturn for Walsall. Kieron Morris, one of their best performers, had shot not too far wide shortly before their goal which came from a set-piece.

Lalkovic with the free-kick this time hit the target and Begovic could only parry it back into play. Centre-back O’Connor, who had made an important contribution twice at the other end, got just enough on the ball to send it trickling over the goal-line.

Little of note marked the opening minutes of the second half, aside from a Terry booking for kicking the ball away, but the game sprung back into life thanks to Kenedy’s thumping finish under Etheridge from midway inside the area to make it 3-1, the ball having come the 19-year-old’s way via Mikel and Loftus-Cheek after the Blues had nicked it from a Walsall throw.

The celebration was a fine one too, sliding on his knees with the away support close by and cheering the recent addition from Fluminese on. 

There was then a brief comedy interval as one of the pitch sprinklers made a unplanned but powerful intervention. ‘Is there a fire drill?’ sang the quick-witted Chelsea following as play was held up while the tap was located.  

When the football resumed, the Saddlers’ skipper Adam Chambers became their first player booked when he brought down Loftus-Cheek who was heading towards the box.   

Remy shooting wide and Demetriou going close from distance for the League One side heralded a burst of substitutions by both managers, with Jose Mourinho introducing even more seasoned internationals for teenagers.

There was a warning the game wasn’t quite over yet when Romaine Sawyers was allowed to head a corner over and another shot was deflected wide. Falcao scooped over with a first-time effort at the other end and then chased a Pedro pass that was struck too strongly into the goalie’s gloves.

Mantom drilled a late shot across goal and in truth, the Saddlers had given as good as they got for much of the final 10 minutes, but the cushion was extended to 4-1 thanks to the individual skills of substitute Pedro who dribbled, stepped over and found the bottom corner with style.

All that was left was for a few seconds on the pitch for Papys Djilobodji - a Chelsea debut. Then it was off down the tunnel to find out our next opponents in the fourth-round draw.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Begovic, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Baba, Mikel, Ramires, Loftus-Cheek (Matic 72), Remy, Falcao (Djilobodji 90+2), Kenedy (Pedro 70).
Unused subs Blackman, Aina, Traore, Hazard.
Scorers Ramires 10, Remy 40, Kenedy 52, Pedro 90+1
Mikel 38, Terry 51

Walsall (4-1-4-1): Etheridge; Demetriou, Downing, O'Connor, Henry; Chambers (c) (Flanagan 73); Morris, Sawyers, Mantom, Lalkovic (Forde 73); Cook (Baxendale 86).
Unused subs MacGillivray, Preston, Taylor, Kinsella.
Scorer O’Connor 45+1
Booked Chambers 58, Forde 83.

Referee Lee Mason
Crowd 10,525