Chelsea had made just one change to the starting lineup today from our last game before the two-week winter break — Andreas Christensen replacing the international duty-bound Thiago Silva — but there was also big change in the dugout and not one made by choice.
It was confirmed just prior to the game that Thomas Tuchel tested positive for COVID-19, and will thus be isolating for at least five days. With Joe Edwards recently gone to Everton to join Frank Lampard, the home dugout was suddenly looking a bit sparse. Assistants Arno Michels and Zsolt Lőw took charge, assisted by Anthony Barry, goalkeeping coach Hilário and analyst Benni Weber, and of course a constant communication device with the head coach watching from home.
Michels took media duties, and reflected on the strange situation for the team.
“There has been ongoing communication [with Tuchel through] Benni Weber. He knows about our game, of course, and stayed in touch for the whole game. He was involved in the whole preparation of the game so everything was clear in what we wanted to do and we stayed the whole time in touch. All good.”
“[We] see it as a team effort. Zsolt, Anthony, and H is included, Benni too. We all felt a little bit excited because we are used to having Thomas by our side. It is different but the team made it very easy for us and helped us also in our work. We felt very good and very supported. But it is definitely different from when Thomas is there. We are not the main responsibility for the game.”
As different as things may have been in the dugout, on the pitch it was a rather familiar script that played out.
Chelsea dominated against third tier promotion hopefuls Plymouth Argyle, amassing over 40 shots by the end of the 120 minutes of regulation and extra-time, but we were having serious trouble finding the final pass, the requisite finish, the correct decision more often than not. And despite the veritable plethora of attacking talent chucked onto the pitch, it were once again two wing-backs who managed to find the back of the net in César Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso.
For Michels, we were more unlucky than anything else, but the added minutes will not have been welcome. And let’s not even talk about the potential injury to Mason Mount that he appeared to have picked up in extra-time while taking a shot (he went straight down the tunnel after the substitution).
“We had 60 minutes where we could lead 3-1. We had many opportunities, crosses from the side, touches in the box. We were a little bit unlucky with the crossbar and post and at the same time, we score more or less an own goal. So we had a little bit of difficulty but everyone will say in the FA Cup the most important thing is to go through and that is what we did.”
“[It] was tough against an opponent who was very well organised. To play 120 minutes was not the target for today we have to say. We had a bit of little injuries, hopefully only little injuries. So we will see. It is not easy to come back after the break and play a game like this.”
“[Mount] felt an injury in extra time with this shot on goal. Only by this shot — it wasn’t a serious problem during the game — it was only when he had the shot he realised he had quick he felt pain and so we took him off. We will see. There will be further exams. Hopefully, it’s not too bad but right now I can’t promise what the situation is.”
-Arno Michels; source: Football.London
Job done, yes. At the end of the day, that is indeed the thing that matters most. We’ve now reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in all but two seasons in the 21st century.
We made it much harder on ourselves than it should’ve been, but I suppose coming back after two weeks — and a proper break that we rarely get in the middle of a season — will always be a bit difficult. Fortunately, we have had this chance to ease back into the swing of things, before heading out to the Club World Cup.
Onwards and upwards!