What better way to get over the disappointment of a midweek loss than to romp your way past a League One side in the FA Cup? If anyone had doubts that Chelsea would ease their way past Peterborough, they’d have been eased at halftime with the Blues 2-0 to the good and dominant; even a second-half red card for John Terry failed to halt the momentum for long.
As expected, Antonio Conte rotated heavily to welcome the minnows to Stamford Bridge. Of the usual first-choice lineup, only Gary Cahill found himself starting in a familiar role. Pedro was deployed as the most attacking left wingback in the history of football, and barring Cesc Fabregas and Willian, the rest of the side was made up of the under-utilised.
Notable appearances included Michy Batshuayi getting his first start since the League Cup loss at West Ham, Kurt Zouma returning from the knee injury that had kept him out for the better part of a year and John Terry attempting a David Luiz impression as the lynchpin of the defence.
Within minutes the Blues had found the woodwork via the implausible route of a Gary Cahill backheel, the ex-Bolton man meeting a Willian corner at the near post with the sort of flick which would have made Roberto Mancini proud. Peterborough keeper Luke McGee, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, dove to make the stop, but was lucky not to concede an own goal after the ball bounced off the bottom of the post, into his head and then inches wide.
In the opening stages, however, the visitors were giving it as good as they got. Unsurprisingly given the long-layoffs to two-thirds of their number, the defence looked tentative and confused, with Zouma in particular making some bizarre decisions on and off the ball. The early wobbles could have cost Chelsea when Lee Angol managed to slip between the centre backs, but Asmir Begovic had the close-range shot well covered and the match remained scoreless.
Minutes later, Ryan Tafazolli got free on a corner and sent a glancing header wide, and it briefly seemed as though the Blues were in for more of a slog than they bargained for. But that proved the end of the Posh threat rather than a more ominous beginning, and Chelsea began to turn on the style.
Pedro got things going with a fine finish, taking advantage of Nathaniel Chalobah’s thumping long-range drive to jump onto the rebound, undress Chris Forrester and then lash gleefully into the top corner. Then the misses began piling up. Batshuayi had a couple of chances blocked and seemed to be trying too hard to find the scoresheet. Willian drew a decent save from McGee. And Pedro came up with the sort of miss that defies explanation.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek had an angled drive kept out by McGee, but managed to gather up the rebound and squared to Pedro for an easy goal. A deft touch took Michael Bostwick out of the equation and left Pedro with the simple task of rolling home from three yards. Instead he hit the bar, a feat so extraordinary that even Ramires can’t believe he managed it.
Pedro saw the funny side of the miss, and Chelsea going 2-0 up just before halftime made it a little easier to take. Fine work from Willian broke the Peterborough press on the right flank, and his ball to Branislav Ivanovic gave the Blues a four-on-two break which was effectively impossible to waste. A smart cross found Loftus-Cheek, his layoff went to Batshuayi and the Belgian lashed home from 12 yards.
Chelsea should have added some extra gloss to the scoreline immediately after the interval through Loftus-Cheek. Played through by Batshuayi, the big midfielder had just McGee to beat, but rolled his low shot just wide of the far post. McGee denied another Chelsea youngster a deserved goal when he diverted Nathanial Chalobah’s effort behind for a corner, but by that point the Blues had struck again to make it 3-0.
Willian had drifted over to support Pedro on the left, and since nobody bothered to close him down he waltzed his way to the edge of the box and lashed a neat finish into the bottom corner. The match was becoming a rout, and it was clear that something extraordinary was going to have to happen for Peterbrough to keep the scoreline respectable.
The extraordinary arrived in the form of a John Terry red card. The defence had been re-jiggered to accommodate Ola Aina, on for Gary Cahill, which left Ivanovic and Terry rather ponderously flanking Zouma. And when Zouma missed an interception to send Angol running at his partners, Terry had little option but to attempt a desperate challenge which took man rather than ball. Kevin Friend weighed up his options before deciding that the retreating Ivanovic was not sufficient cover*, brandishing a straight red and reducing Chelsea to 10 men.
*I leave the string of jokes that might be made here as an exercise for the reader.
Cesar Azpilicueta was thrown into the fray in response, with Loftus-Cheek unfortunate to make way as the Blues switched to a 3-4-2. But before the substitute could even get settled, the visitors had pulled a goal back. A cross came in from the left, and Angol’s attempted shot was so thoroughly mis-hit that the entire defence was wrong-footed, leaving Tom Nichols free for a tap-in just four yards from goal.
Begovic took out his displeasure on the goalpost; Conte took it out on Peterborough. Annoyed by their numerical advantage, he simply removed it by swapping Willian for N’Golo Kante. The visitors’ momentum was stymied from that point onward, and Pedro even managed to reestablish the three-goal cushion when he turned a one-two with Batshuayi into more or less the same finish that Willian managed for his goal.
From then on it was just a matter of trying to run up the score. Lots of speculative long-range attempts followed; none found the net. No matter — Chelsea were through to the 4th round with minimal fuss. Job done. Now back to the league.