Chelsea got more than a fair amount of luck in finding a late equalizer against Cardiff City last night, but there was no doubt about the winner that followed a few minutes later, courtesy of second-half substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who now has two goals more than any other midfield in the squad, despite having played just half the minutes of Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovačić.
Loftus-Cheek’s minutes have been restricted in part due to having to compete with both of the aforementioned duo for playing time (as well as injuries, and Sarri’s usual excuses), but the 23-year-old’s versatility has been helpful in getting opportunities at wide forward as well. Yesterday, he was tasked with a slightly different role as well, playing as a nominal midfielder, but someone more akin to a second striker, ready to push forward and join Olivier Giroud in adding height, strength, and skill into the attack in the final third.
Cardiff had defended with great discipline and commitment, but the added late pressure eventually paid off for the visitors. Buoyed by the momentum of the equalizer, the Blues forced the issue (at last!) and found the belated winner in the 91st minute. Afterwards, the homegrown match-winner gave credit to the players and the coaches for inspiring the comeback victory.
“It was crazy. We all felt the goal coming. The momentum was on our side, we kept going and just before the end got it.
“The manager and Zola told me to tell Ross to be more disciplined which would let me go and try and get into the box and have more freedom in the final third. I just tried to get into the box and it worked. It’s always been part of my game if there’s space in front of me. It creates difficulty for the back four.”
With Kovačić and Barkley providing the base of operations, Chelsea were able (and willing) to push numbers up front, which at the very least meant more (big) bodies in the box, with Giroud, Loftus-Cheek, Alonso, and others all looking to cause problems for the home side. It worked so well — more bodies = more danger — that it made everyone forget just for a second the dire 80 minutes of football that preceded it.
But a win’s a win, and at this point, that’s all that matters. And there’s not much time to rest, back-to-back home games at the Bridge follow on Wednesday (Brighton) and Monday (West Ham). We’ll need better choices from the manager, the players, and the fans as well.
“It was my first last-ditch winner for Chelsea and it was amazing to celebrate with the fans. I’ve got a really good bond with the fans. They’ve been fantastic with me since I made my debut so I can only thank them.”
‘It’s a great three points away. We aim for the top four so any points we get to bring us closer to that is massive. We need to take advantage of these home games now and hopefully get six points.”
A repeat of Sunday’s efforts won’t be enough.