Assistant coach Gianfranco Zola may have been deputizing for Maurizio Sarri for just the second time this season in media duties, taking both the pre- and post-match press conferences as he did in the previous round of the League Cup as well, but he wasn’t mincing words when it came to Chelsea’s performance assessment from Wednesday night’s narrow 3-2 win over the Championship promotion hopefuls.
Other than the win, and the output from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and perhaps Álvaro Morata, there wasn’t a lot to point to with pride in a disorganized and careless performance by Chelsea.
Just like the first first fifteen minutes against Burnley on the weekend, Chelsea looked like a bunch of strangers who had hardly met each other, let alone connect a few passes together. Derby County, motivated by the occasion as well as their manager’s homecoming, came out with boundless energy and challenged for every ball. Chelsea seemingly forgot everything Sarri has taught them about keeping possession.
For Zola, “bit shaky” only begins to describe it.
“More than a little bit, to be honest. Especially towards the end. A lot is down to them. They really played well and surprised us, played with a lot of quality. A lot was down to us. The passing wasn’t as sharp as it normally is, and in the last 10-15 minutes we lost control. The distances were too far apart, and when you give space to the players Derby have got, it becomes difficult. We need to improve, it was positive in some ways, but others didn’t work properly tonight.
“The first half, they were obviously screening a lot, marking Cesc Fabregas a lot. The defenders had more time, but they weren’t as sharp as normally with the ball. This created some pressure so we didn’t have control of the game. We lost some balls and they were very good at taking advantage on our mistakes.”
In the first half, Derby had their own problems defending, conceding two own-goals. But no sooner had Chelsea been gifted the lead that, within five minutes each time, an equalizer would follow.
It was not a great night for the midfield, nor for second-choice centre-backs Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen. Christensen’s night and his mood wouldn’t have been helped by his ending in the ignominy of a defensive substitution either, as he made way for David Luiz’s better composure and comfort on the ball for the final 25 minutes, though even that wasn’t a magic wand solution.
“A player like Cahill, they play and then they don’t for a while, so they might have a problem. When I said we didn’t play well, I didn’t mean the defenders didn’t defend well. The way we play everyone has to participate in the defensive phase. Some things didn’t work. I thought Gary and Christensen in the first half could have done better with the ball. Normally their distribution is better than tonight. That’s the complaint I can make about that. But we’ll go through this and discuss it.
”Second half the passing was better. David came on and did well, and we were cruising until 10-15 minutes to go where the game became too much up and down: a chance for us, a chance for them. We didn’t want that. So something didn’t work out as normal. But Derby were an excellent opponent.”
-Gianfranco Zola; source: Football.London
Sarri said there would be rough times. Wednesday night was most certainly one of them. But Chelsea got the win and, by advancing, guarantee that the players who performed so poorly on the night will get a chance to redeem themselves against Bournemouth in the quarter-finals in mid-December.
We can only hope that they make a better fist of it the next time, and take their chance to impress a bit more seriously. As it stands, Sarri doesn’t have much to think about the next time he has to decide between first- and second-string lineups.