Reece James' nerveless spot kick gave Chelsea a penalty shoot-out victory over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge and booked our place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup.
Our third-round tie at Stamford Bridge went all the way. It was a quiet first half with little in the way of action at either end, but the game sparked into life after the half-time break.
Villa struck back with a fine goal of their own, as Cameron Archer powered header in off the bar following a cross from their own right-back, Matt Cash.
Kepa was kept busy, but it was Steer who had most to do in the second half, particularly when keeping out good efforts from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount, meaning the 90 minutes finished 1-1 and the match went straight to penalties.
Kepa showed his shoot-out prowess once again to deny Marvelous Nakamba, which combined with Ashley Young hitting the crossbar to hand us the advantage. The pressure briefly increased when Ben Chilwell's shot also came back off the woodwork, but Reece James was nerveless in dispatching his decisive effort into the top-left corner.
You can watch the highlights of the shoot-out and the match itself on the official Chelsea website and The 5th Stand app from 1am UK time tonight.
Our head coach had hinted he could rotate his side for tonight’s cup game and stuck to his word, with only goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga remaining in the starting XI from our 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday. Edouard Mendy and Christian Pulisic are both still recovering from injuries so were not involved.
N'Golo Kante captained the team from midfield, having made a big impact from the bench at Tottenham, with Saul and Ruben Loftus-Cheek beside him as we started with a three man midfield, which worked so well against Spurs. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell got the nod as wing-backs, meaning Chilwell and Loftus-Cheek both made their first starts of the season.
Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner took up advanced positions as forward partnership. Among the substitutes, 19-year-old defender Xavier Mbuyamba was involved for the senior team for the first time.
Before the match kicked off Stamford Bridge paid its respects to legendary former Chelsea striker Jimmy Greaves, who passed away on Sunday, with the whole stadium rising to its feet for a round of applause.
Once the game had begun, the first chance fell the way of Aston Villa, as Morgan Sanson burst through the middle of the pitch on the counter-attack and we were momentarily caught outnumbered three on two at the back. He fed the ball right to Cameron Archer, but Kepa came out quickly and made himself big as the young striker’s attempted chip looped over the bar.
We were getting forward ourselves, though, with Werner’s pace causing early problems for the Villa defence, as did Loftus-Cheek’s ability to drive out of midfield. Chilwell was also finding space out on the left, with one attempted cross coming close to catching out goalkeeper Jed Steer, but dropping just the wrong side of the crossbar from a Chelsea perspective.
The first 20 minutes of the game were short on chances, with very little in the way of opportunities, but there was a sign things might begin to open up when James advanced down the right and laid the ball off for Kante on the wing. The Frenchman’s cross found Saul well, but the midfielder was under heavy pressure and couldn’t get his header on target.
Chilwell had to be alert when a short free-kick from Villa gave Anwar El Ghazi space on the left, but our wing-back was able to slide in at the near post and send his driven cross behind for a corner. That resulted in a bizarre moment as the dangerous corner came in, but Archer completely miscued his volley and sent the ball back to his own defenders on the halfway line.
Loftus-Cheek was starting to come into the game more and produced one brilliant run when he ghosted past three Villa players and floated a ball out wide to Hudson-Odoi, but the wing-back path into the box was well blocked by the experienced Young. Shortly afterwards, Ziyech forced the first save from Steer with a trademark curling effort after cutting in from the right, but it lacked power and was claimed comfortably by the goalkeeper.
Threat on the counter
We ended the first half strongly, putting the visitors under a bit of pressure, but a blocked effort by Werner was the closest we came before the break. However, we were nearly caught out on the counter at the other end, as former Blues youngster Bertrand Traore played Archer through behind our defence, but Kepa stood strong again to save one-on-one and James recovered to clear off the line when El Ghazi followed up on the rebound.
There was a change of personnel and system for Chelsea at half-time, when Kante made way for Mason Mount, the substitute also taking the captain’s armband from the Frenchman. That saw Mount line up alongside Werner and Ziyech in a front three for the second half.
However, our early threat in the second period came from one of our wing-backs, as Hudson-Odoi twice wriggled his way into the box, but he couldn't then find a way past Steer.
Game sparks into life
Werner then had a shout for a penalty dismissed when his shot from the edge of the box struck a Villa defender’s arm, but the German didn’t have to wait much longer to get his name on the score sheet.
When the goal arrived it came from a pinpoint James delivery, curling a cross from the right just beyond the penalty spot, where Werner had gotten a yard on his marker and was able to head down beyond Steer and into the back of the net.
That goal seemed to spark the game into life, as we briefly pinned Villa back in their own box and Ziyech drew another good save from Steer.
Our dominance wasn’t to last, though, as Villa soon looked to hit back and Kepa had to make a series of saves, the best to stop a low effort from Traore, but there was nothing he could do when he was picking the ball out of his net moments later. Cash whipped a cross to the back post which took Chelsea’s defenders out of the game, and Archer’s header crashed down off the crossbar right into the top corner of the goal, giving Kepa no chance.
The momentum of the tie was now swinging back and forth almost by the minute with a series of half-chances for both teams. Buendia fired over the bar, but the best came from Chelsea, as Loftus-Cheek dribbled across the face of goal and laid the ball off for Mount with a clever back-heel. Mount did well to side-step his man but toe-poked his shot just wide.
Tuchel decided to make two more attacking substitutions as we gradually took the ascendancy and pushed for a winning goal, with both Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley coming on, as Hakim Ziyech and Saul made way.
With 10 minutes to go we were enjoying all the possession and starting to threaten more regularly, as Steer had to produce a fine save to deny a powerful shot by Mount from the edge of the box and Barkley had a low drive from a similar position deflected wide.
The building tension of the closing minutes, with no extra time in the Carabao Cup meaning the possibility of a penalty shoot-out was looming increasingly large, was briefly broken as Villa’s Jaden Philogene-Bidace went down injured and needed lengthy treatment, with the fourth official indicating five minutes of added time to played.
There was very little in the way of chances during that additional time, with a Loftus-Cheek header from a corner striking Villa defender Hause and spinning wide of the post the closest either side came to a dramatic late winner.
Penalties decide it
That left the teams heading across to the Matthew Harding Stand for a penalty shoot-out. After El Ghazi and Lukaku had each given their team a scoring start, Young hit the crossbar before Kepa showed his reflexes to keep out Marvelous Nakamba and hand us the advantage. Mount and Barkley scored with accomplished efforts to close in on victory, but the pressure increased when Chilwell also struck the woodwork. It didn't seem to affect James, though, as he calmly placed his decisive spot kick into the top corner to book our place in the Carabao Cup fourth round
Villa’s El Ghazi went first – scored in the top corner – 0-1
Lukaku took Chelsea’s first – calmly slotted in low – 1-1
Young – shot crashes back off the crossbar – 1-1
Mount – sends the keeper the wrong way to score – 2-1
Nakamba – Kepa saves with a strong hand to his left – 2-1
Barkley – Sends Steer the wrong way again – 3-1
Konsa – places in the top corner – 3-2
Chilwell – hits the bar in the same spot as Young – 3-2
Buendia – sends Kepa the wrong way – 3-3
James – places in the top-left corner to win the game – 4-3
We are back at Stamford Bridge on Saturday for a big game in the Premier League, as we host Manchester City at 12.30pm. We then continue our Champions League campaign with a trip to Italy to face Juventus next Wednesday evening.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Kepa; James, Chalobah, Sarr; Hudson-Odoi, Kante (c) (Mount h-t), Loftus-Cheek, Saul (Barkley 76), Chilwell; Ziyech (Lukaku 76), Werner
Unused subs: Bettinelli, Mbuyamba, Thiago Silva, Havertz
Scorer: Werner 54
Booked: Sarr 31, James 90+1
Aston Villa: Steer, Cash (Konsa 76), Tuanzebe, Hause, Young (c), Sanson (Carney Chukwuemeka 41), Nakamba, Traore (Philogene-Bidace 64), Buendia, El Ghazi, Archer
Unused subs: Sinisalo, Bogarde, A. Ramsey, Caleb Chukwuemeka
Booked: Young 86
Scorer: Archer 64
Referee: Graham Scott