Ross Barkley continued his fine goalscoring form in this season’s FA Cup as he came off the bench to fire Chelsea into the semi-finals.
In a tight contest between the teams currently third and fourth in the Premier League, Frank Lampard could once again be pleased with the impact of his in-game changes after introducing the England international as part of a triple substitution at half-time.
It took the 26-year-old just over a quarter of an hour to make the decisive contribution, steering in a cross from Willian to settle a cup tie that had been evenly matched up to that point.
The visitors had been a little below-par in the first half but were much-improved after the interval and now take their place in the last four, which will be played at Wembley on the weekend of 18/19 July.
Fast Foxes start
Even after 148 years of the FA Cup, there are still firsts for the world’s oldest cup competition and this quarter-final played behind closed doors was certainly one of those for eight-time winners Chelsea.
The hosts came racing out of the traps on an unseasonably chilly June afternoon in the East Midlands, wrestling early control of the midfield battleground and exerting pressure on the changed Blues defence.
Willy Caballero was forced into shaking the dust from his gloves inside a few minutes as he clawed away a dangerous delivery from the right and was then grateful when Wilfred Ndidi steered a free header right at him after 15 minutes.
The Blues, all in white for this away cup tie, had struggled to get started and Lampard urged more focus from his players from the touchline.
There was improvement in possession from the visitors and the game soon opened up as a result. In our 2-2 draw against Brendan Rodgers’s side in February, two Toni Rudiger headers had earned a point and it was a set-piece that provided the first tester for Kasper Schmeichel, though the Dane had an easy job to catch Christian Pulisic’s looping header.
Down the other end, Youri Tielemans forced a save down low to the left from Caballero before Ben Chilwell’s teasing tee-up seemed perfect for Jonny Evans but his fellow defender couldn’t quite stretch enough to make sufficient aerial contact.
Leicester had not conceded a goal in the FA Cup this season and boasted the second-best defensive record in the Premier League, highlighting the difficult task we had in breaking them down. Pulisic mustered our best opportunity of the first period on the half-hour mark at the end of an intricate move but the American was thwarted by a flying Schmeichel save.
With little to separate the sides, it remained deadlocked at the break after Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy had spurned openings, the latter after a rare moment escaping in behind the Blues backline.
Lampard acted decisively at the break, utilising the temporary increase in permitted substitutes by swapping three players at the midway point. Cesar Azpilicueta, Mateo Kovacic and Barkley were all introduced with an immediate impact, a noticeable shift in tempo and intensity to our play.
The breakthrough finally arrived 18 minutes after the restart and the new arrivals were instrumental in firing Chelsea in front. Azpilicueta combined neatly with Willian on the right and the Brazilian’s cross was swung in at an inviting pace and height.
Barkley had sensed the opportunity, running off the back of the ball-watching Ndidi and then meeting the delivery with an accomplished finish beyond Schmeichel’s despairing dive. It was the England midfielder’s third FA Cup goal of the campaign and handed us a crucial advantage in the tie.
Seeing the game out
If anything, it was Chelsea who looked most likely to score again in the final 30 minutes, and Barkley almost added a second for him and his team within a minute of making it 1-0. A speedy break saw the ball worked across to the midfielder but he had to strike it on his less preferred left foot and could only hit it straight at Schmeichel.
Caballero then saved from Chilwell, who had earlier clipped the top of the crossbar with a floated cross from the left. As Leicester’s cup journey faded, they upped the ante and created chances to force extra-time, however Azpilicueta somehow thwarted Caglar Soyuncu in the air at the back post and Ndidi skewed a stoppage-time effort wide.
Barkley might have wrapped up the win late on but was denied by a fantastic save from Schmeichel, though it ultimately mattered little as the midfielder proved the match-winner for his side. Chelsea join Arsenal and Manchester United in the last four, with the draw set to be made later this evening.
Lucky Leicester for Cup-chasing Chelsea
The omens were good for the Blues as they travelled to the King Power Stadium for this quarter-final tie. We had progressed on each of the six occasions we’d met the Foxes in the FA Cup and, rather remarkably, the last four of those wins were all precursors to lifting the trophy.
We are now two victories away from winning the old Cup for the ninth time having reached our third semi-final in four seasons. No other club has a better record over the past 19 years, over which time we have been semi-finalists on 10 occasions.
With a hectic schedule between now and the delayed conclusion of the season, Lampard made full use of his squad for our trip up the M1 and made six changes from Thursday’s win over Manchester City.
Tammy Abraham started for the first time since leading the line on this ground at the start of February, a game we drew 2-2 courtesy of a Rudiger brace. The German defender was one of five to keep their place in the side, with Kurt Zouma partnering him at centre-back.
There’s no let-up in the fixture schedule as we return to Premier League action on Wednesday at the London Stadium against West Ham, kick-off 8.15pm. After that we host Watford at the Bridge on Saturday 4 July.
Chelsea Caballero; James (Azpilicueta h/t), Zouma, Rudiger, Emerson; Kante, Gilmour (Kovacic h/t); Willian (c) (Pedro 78), Mount (Barkley h/t), Pulisic (Loftus-Cheek 72); AbrahamUnused subs Kepa, Alonso, Jorginho, BatshuayiScorer Barkley 63
Leicester City Schmeichel; Justin, Soyuncu, Evans, Chilwell; Tielemans, Ndidi; Perez (Albrighton 57), Praet (Choudhury 57), Barnes (Gray 76); VardyUnused subs Ward, Morgan, Fuchs, Bennett, Mendy, IheanachoBooked Soyuncu 23
Referee Mike Dean