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Perhaps the start of cup run, but also a run from the cups. England’s two knockout competitions have now given Chelsea two consecutive wins, after a period where they only claimed three victories in nine in all competitions. They have proven a bit of a cleanser. As if to drive the point home, both Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku scored, little confidence boosts amid bigger pushes for better form.
The very vocal Chesterfield looked and sounded like they really enjoyed their day out at Stamford Bridge, especially when Akwasi Asante scored a goal that was so much more than a consolation in this 5-1 defeat. It was a real prize for the National League club. There was joy in the stands, beaming smiles on the pitch and the bench. It was nice reward for an otherwise chastening evening they put everything into, when any energy infusing the fanciful idea of an upset dissipated in the constant chasing of shadows. It was that realisation that the Premier League side are even better than you thought.
That’s the modern game, and that means this is the modern FA Cup. The twist is that Cambridge United’s win over Newcastle United will stand out all the more because they have become so rare. Aware of that game as they prepared for this one, Cambridge may well have been inspired by their EFL counterparts, but were quickly disabused of any such notions.
It was 1-0 after six minutes, 3-0 after 20 and 4-0 by half-time. Chelsea kind of declared then, only scoring one more. If any further finishes would have been unnecessary punishment and fairly inconsequential detail in a predictable result, there was some significance to the game as a while. It may well affect Chelsea’s bottom line.
The impressive performance of 17-year-old Lewis Hall, making his professional debut, should at least ensure the Stamford Bridge hierarchy think again over whether they really need to bring in another left-back in this window. Out wide, he was at the centre of everything, and directly involved in two of Chelsea’s goals.
For Lukaku’s, it was Hall’s pressure, challenge and break that set it up, the 17-year-old squaring so the striker had the easiest of finishes.
Andreas Christensen made it 4-0 just before half-time, but only after a shot from Hall that was much more difficult for goalkeeper Scott Loach to hold. The Danish defender did show fine poise by guiding his header in from the parry.
Long before that, Werner had opened the scoring with a tap-in after a Mateo Kovacic break, with Callum Hudson-Odoi then scoring the goal of the game.
It was one of those delightfully rare moments when the space just opened up for a player to give him a sight of goal, with everyone seeing what was on, and willing him to shoot. Hudson-Odoi obliged, curling the ball into the far corner.
There was still one more bit of pain for Chesterfield as Christian Pulisic won a penalty that Hakim Ziyech converted just after half-time, and it was at that point it looked like it could get properly damaging for the non-league.
It was only the prelude to a precious moment. With Chelsea easing off but Chesterfield’s defence closing up, Asante brought joyous release.
Kabongo Tshimanga had done superbly to create the space for a shot at the edge of the box, bringing a parry from Marcus Bettinelli. There was Asante, running right in front of an end entirely filled with Chesterfield fans, to give them the moment they’d been waiting for.
It might not have been one of those days, but it was what the FA Cup really is about. Thomas Tuchel meanwhile got more of what he feels Chelsea should be about: winning. The cup has lifted them in that way, too.