Chelsea defeated Sheffield United 2-0 in the FA Cup quarter-final, earning them an encounter with Manchester City at Wembley for the next stage.
A glance at the Premier League table reveals last weekend’s victory to be in no way all that surprising. It took the Blades until February to crack double digits in league points, and they’d parted ways with their manager, Chris ‘Three Subs, No Points, Just Vibes’ Wilder, about a week prior. However this was a cup match, and the Magic of the Cup™ is something we’re all taught to believe in.
Truth be told, the vistors at Stamford Bridge played well. Striker David McGoldrick connected with a cross to create the biggest chance yet on Tuchel’s Chelsea and if we’re being very honest, it was harder to miss — though he did. Chelsea were up 1-0 thanks to an own goal forced by Ben Chilwell in the first half, but large chunks of the second were Chelsea trying to keep the Blades at bay and avoid extra time.
Two minutes into extra time, with Sheffield United pushing hard and Chelsea digging in to book their spot in semifinal, the Blues got a chance to spring forward on a counter. Hakim Ziyech was first to a ball in midfield and knocked it into space where Mateo Kovacic and Chilwell were sprinting forward, with the former Real Madrid star collecting the ball while the Moroccan international continued to run down the left flank.
The midfielder laid the ball in his path, the left-back hit a dinked chip first time, and Ziyech — who had been trailing Kai Havertz’s central run — reappeared to meet the ball mid-flight.
Then the wizarding happened.
As Chilwell shaped his run to line the first-time cross, Havertz accelerated his central run between Sheffield center backs Stevens and Jagielka, and pointed to the open space between him and the goal.
With two of the three center backs focused on Havertz, and the third attempting to close down Chilwell, Ziyech shifted his run toward the space between.
Chilwell spotted the space and played a clever chip into the space ahead of Ziyech. The ball floated a bit, and gave the Moroccan international a lot to do to get it under control. However if there’s one thing Ziyech is known throughout world football for, it’s his ability to conjure magical forces to create moments of brilliance. So he takes a gazelle-esque leap to lift his right boot high enough to meet the middle of the ball and alter its trajectory downward.
The technique caused two things to occur simultaneously:
1) the ball hit the ground hard and in response bounced six-feet in the air (which was not great) and;
2) spin forward into space that only Ziyech could get to (which was great!).
You can see in these two screenshots that Ziyech’s first touch is closer to the top of the eighteen-yard box than the penalty spot, and before he makes his final touch the ball is already yards below the penalty spot. And speaking of that second touch...
Ziyech slides to catch up to the ball and swing his left boot at the ball before it can bounce off the grass on its own. The concentration is evident in his face, as he knows where the goal is, and knows that if his contact is pure, no keeper in the world is reacting quickly enough to do anything about it.
Ziyech’s form here is just as elegant as his first leap, too. He connects with the ball low enough to ensure the shot skims along the ground, and times his volley well enough to generate the power needed to speed beyond the keeper.
I particularly like this frame. Both the keeper and the nearest defender are glaring menacingly at the ball as it bounces into the bottom corner. Ziyech is also having a little glance of admiration as he ensure that everything he’d just results in the goal it deserves.
Another part of this goal that I particularly love and pay attention to is the post-goal movement of the ball. I love it when the ball cartoonishly ping pongs around the net like its had its molecules rearranged into something that only exists in the Looney Tunes Universe. And in this case, the ball is hit so perfectly that its momentum cannot be contained by the net, so it rattles the net as it slams into the bottom corner, then ricochets into the top of the net, tracing the net to where it meets with the back of the bar and bounces with verve back into the ground.
This was Ziyech’s second goal in Chelsea’s second consecutive match; with Kai Havertz playing a role in both and Timo Werner assisting the first. If the player with a left foot that Ashley Cole likens to a wand is finding his footing at Chelsea by filling spaces created by the threats of Werner and Havertz, the magician will have plenty of room to put on a show.
Let’s look at the goal again shall we?