Chelsea are through to the FA Cup quarter-finals! A superb team performance was rewarded as long-distance goals from Willian and Ross Barkley were supplemented by a collection of fine Kepa saves and a standout midfield performance from 18-year-old Billy Gilmour.
That quartet, all brought into the side tonight, certainly played a major part in securing another famous Cup victory against Liverpool, but this was undoubtedly a group effort. The night was made extra satisfying by the clean sheet, our first since 11 January and seventh in our last eight FA Cup games here at the Bridge. How the Chelsea support enjoyed One Step Beyond at the final whistle!
Tonight Kepa made his first good save very early on, and we responded in kind, Willian denied by Adrian. The Brazilian would get his goal immediately afterwards, with 12 minutes played, blasting a shot in from outside the box the Liverpool keeper couldn’t stop.
Kepa then produced a dramatic triple-save to keep us ahead, and our resilience only grew, helped by man-of-the-match Gilmour, destructive and constructive in equal measure.
Sub Mason Mount hit the bar on the hour and then we went 2-0 up, Barkley bursting from midfield to despatch a fine strike into the corner.
In truth, we closed the game out with relative ease, and could even have extended our advantage late on, Olivier Giroud another to be denied by the woodwork.
It didn’t matter a jot as Liverpool were condemned to a second defeat in four days. Meanwhile we can look forward to the draw for the last eight tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
Chelsea started shakily. Both our incoming centre-backs gave the ball away inside three minutes, with the second of those incidents, an intercepted Toni Rudiger pass, leading to an opening for the unmarked Sadio Mane. Thankfully he fired straight at Kepa, who blocked and held.
We didn’t let that very early wobble affect us, and quickly grew in authority during a seriously lively start at the Bridge.
On five minutes Pedro threatened to race away and mark his 200th Blues appearance with a goal, but Neco Williams got across to clear. From the resulting corner, Cesar Azpilicueta glanced a header both wide and beyond the reach of the stretching Giroud and Rudiger.
Barkley did hit the target from way further out with a sweet strike that Adrian could only punch down and into the ground, Pedro having again come close to getting in.
Gilmour in our midfield was proving dominant with and without the ball, belying his tender years. One spin and burst on halfway turned defence into attack and released Pedro down the left. His cross was cleverly dummied by Barkley, allowing it to run through to an unmarked Willian whose thumping effort was impressively kept out by the arm of Adrian. Our Brazilian would have the upper hand barely 20 seconds later.
Under pressure from Barkley on the edge of the D, Fabinho gave the ball straight to Willian, and this time his strike from 20 yards was too hot for Liverpool’s keeper to handle, nestling in the bottom corner after an uncomfortable attempt to save. Thirteen minutes of a frenzied Cup tie had been played.
Kepa to the rescue
Kepa has been out of the team since before the previous round of this competition. He reminded everyone of his quality just before the 20-minute mark with a remarkable triple save.
Williams crossed and Cesar Azpilicueta desperately cleared but only back into the danger zone. The ball eventually fell to Mane, who was thwarted on the turn by Kepa at point-blank range.
The danger wasn’t over. Divock Origi was the next to try his luck, but Kepa stuck out a left arm and parried to Curtis Jones, who was the third different Liverpool player to meet his match.
Emboldened by those heroics, Kepa leapt to his left to palm a Mane shot away after the lively Senegalese had wriggled into our box and curled goalwards on the half-hour.
The tempo slowed just a fraction as the interval approached, although the sense an opening for either side was just around the corner never relented.
We were forced into changes before and after the break. Mateo Kovacic limped off to be replaced by Mount, and then when play restarted Willian’s evening ending prematurely, Jorginho Lampard’s substitution of choice on this occasion.
The home support roared their team on as Liverpool upped the pressure. We stood strong, Kurt Zouma cutting off a dangerous Lallana centre. And then on the hour we nearly doubled our lead, Mount’s whipped free-kick thudding the top of the bar and flying into the Matthew Harding.
That end of the ground wouldn’t have to wait long before witnessing a stunning solo goal in front of them; just three minutes, in fact.
Pedro won possession back near the Chelsea dugout and Giroud beat Van Dijk in the air, with the ball running square to Barkley, some 70 yards from goal. Immediately it seemed like he had one thing in his mind, to drive at the heart of the retreating Liverpool defence and get a shot away. He showed a burst of pace and eye for space, opening his body up before smashing a pinpoint effort into the corner from the edge of the box. It was clearly a particularly sweet moment for the ex-Evertonian.
We had two great chances to wrap the victory up. The first was all Pedro’s making, as he nipped the ball off two Liverpool players’ toes inside our half and raced into open green grass. When the shot came it was too close to Adrian.
Then with a quarter-of-an-hour to play Giroud was set free over the top. He forced his way past Joe Gomez – who suffered at his hands all night – and sidefooted firmly goalwards. Adrian partly redeemed himself for the opening goal with a sensational fingertip save, diverting the ball onto the underside of the bar. The bounce down fell on the wrong side of the line from our perspective.
With 10 minutes left, Jurgen Klopp threw on Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to try and stay in the competition, but instead it was Chelsea who threatened to score the next goal. Mount fired wide and Giroud saw a shot deflected past the post after more neat footwork from Gilmour had befuddled Fabinho.
We stayed strong to quell Liverpool's last few attacks, and when the final whistle blew the Bridge could celebrate a wonderful night's work.
Frank Lampard brought six fresh faces into the team from the Bournemouth game, including Gilmour and Kepa. Rudiger, Zouma, Barkley and Willian were the other changes. Youngster Tino Anjorin was named on the bench.
Liverpool made seven changes to their last league line-up.
Liverpool’s neighbours Everton are the visitors to Stamford Bridge on Sunday for another crucial Premier League fixture. Kick-off is at 2pm.
Before then we will find out our FA Cup quarter-final opponents following the conclusion of the Sheffield Wednesday v Man City tie tomorrow evening.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Zouma, Alonso; Barkley, Gilmour, Kovacic (Mount 42); Willian (Jorginho 51), Giroud (James 90), Pedro.Unused subs Caballero, Tomori, Anjorin, Batshuayi.Scorers Willian 13, Barkley 64
Liverpool (4-3-3): Adrian; Williams, Gomez, Van Dijk (c), Robertson; Lallana (Salah 80), Fabinho, Jones (Milner 70), Mane, Minamino, Origi (Firmino 70).Unused subs Lonergan, Matip, Chirivella, Oxlade-Chamberlain.Booked Fabinho 61, Milner 76, Mane 90+4
Crowd 40,103Referee Chris Kavanagh