Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0 at the Riverside to advance to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, which means a not-so-fun trip to Old Trafford later. It wasn't a vintage display, but it worked fine, so here are some thoughts...
- We probably should have expected a poor display in the first half thanks to the odd team selection, but it went beyond poor in the opening 45 minutes, which featured a grand total of one shot. The team clearly had no plan and nothing was working properly -- although the Blues were clearly the better side they weren't creating chances and their defence was a shambles. The goal helped turn things around, but that was dire.
- Ramires is an excellent player, and the fact that he looks like a lunatic as a deep-lying midfield is indicative of his total misuse in the pivot. His main strengths are off the ball: He's a tireless runner, has good defensive awareness and he's fast enough to blow through defensive lines on the counterattack. He's also a rather good finisher. What he isn't is a passer, and that's what he has to be in the pivot. The 4-2-3-1 doesn't suit him at all, and we should be criticising the shape rather than the player when he doesn't look good.
- Nathan Ake made his first senior start for the Blues, and he did so as a midfielder, playing alongside Ramires. He certainly held his own -- there was only one positional mistake I noticed -- but that combination didn't work too well going forward. It was a good game for the youngster, but it was against Championship opposition in very poor form. It's great that he's getting a chance, but he hasn't proved anything yet.
- Petr Cech's distribution was really, really off today. He was forced to go long thanks to the midfield's inability to pass the ball forward, and he kicked the ball out of play three or four times in the first half. The pitch wasn't in good condition, which might have had a lot to do with the rather woeful accuracy, but still.
- That second goal was really something special. Well done by Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses.
And now to the community rating form.