Chelsea booked their place in the FA Cup fifth round thanks to a 3-0 win over Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.
The FA Cup holders took the lead after 26 minutes with Willian converting from the spot as Cesar Azpilicueta was fouled inside the box by former Blue Sam Hutchinson.
Chelsea’s lead was doubled after an hour with Callum Hudson-Odoi finishing well after getting the better of Morgan Fox inside the are. And Willian wrapped up the win 10 minutes to go, linking up well with Olivier Giroud.
But what did we learn as the holders continued their quest to retain the FA Cup?
1. Callum Hudson-Odoi shows Chelsea what they’re set to miss
Doubts surrounding Callum Hudson-Odoi’s future reached another level on Saturday evening as reports emerged of the teenager handing in a transfer request in order to push forward his move to Bayern Munich.
It came as a surprise to some, then, that Hudson-Odoi started Chelsea’s FA Cup fourth round tie against Sheffield Wednesday as it was surely too late for the club to salvage his Blues career.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 27, 2019
But, should Sunday have been his final Chelsea game with the January transfer window closing on Thursday, Hudson-Odoi went out with a bang.
Starting on the right of Chelsea’s front three alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Willian, Hudson-Odoi had a slow start and did not see too much of the ball. Even as he grew into the game, the teenager could not find the final product required to hurt the Wednesday defence.
All of this came while one of the men standing in his way, Willian, reached 50 goals for the club. The Brazilian was Chelsea’s attacking spark in the first half and got his chance to put the Blues ahead from the penalty spot. After easing Higuain away from the responsibilities, Willian calming diverted his second spot kick in as many games having netting in the shootout win over Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.
However, Hudson-Odoi stepped his game up after half-time to get his second and potentially final Chelsea goal. It came from an Andreas Christensen long ball across the pitch, cutting inside Fox before finishing through Keiren Westwood – who should have done better.
His celebration was slightly more muted than that of his first Chelsea goal against PAOK in the Europa League, though not completely non-existent.
After the game, Hudson-Odoi was asked by the BBC on his short-term future at the club, but the teenager kept things close to his chest.
“I don’t know [if this is my final game]. I can’t say. I keep working hard. You never know what happens.”
“I can’t say, I haven’t,” he repeated when asked about talking to Bayern Munich.
2. Chelsea’s striking problems go further than personnel
Even with the Hudson-Odoi transfer saga, the biggest story in the build up to the game was whether Chelsea’s new loan signing, Gonzalo Higuain, would be thrown straight into the starting XI.
He was, but it wasn’t the debut Chelsea fans would have been hoping for.
Well played, @G_Higuain! 👏
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 27, 2019
The Argentinian had a largely quiet first match in English football, having to wait 18 minutes for his first real action.
Higuain showed good movement to get onto the end of Mateo Kovacic’s through ball, taking a good touch before his unleashing a first-time shot, but it was blocked and sent wide. His only other efforts saw a header go wide and a shot blocked in the second half.
He continued to show his spacial awareness on the pitch throughout, finding the gaps in Wednesday’s defence but – as previous Chelsea centre-forwards have found this season – it can be a waste of energy.
Once again Chelsea were lethargic in midfield, leading Higuain to have to move out wide to get a touch of the ball, showing his frustration at times.
Though the Argentinian will undoubtedly be a better fit for Sarrismo than Olivier Giroud or the soon-departing Alvaro Morata, Chelsea need to get the system right for Higuain to make his mark.
3. Ethan Ampadu not quite ready to orchestrate Sarrismo
With another game against Bournemouth on Wednesday, Chelsea made eight changes from the starting XI which beat Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Thursday.
One of those changes saw Ethan Ampadu starting in yet another new role, this time replacing Jorginho’s in Sarri’s deeper midfield spot.
The teenager, who has previously played at centre-back and right-back for the Blues, has some midfield experience with the Welsh national team though not to the same intensity as Sarri requires.
Ampadu had a shaky start, giving the ball away early on but grew into the game with some composed passing both long and short. But he saw less of the ball than both Jorginho and Cesc Fabregas have in the role this season, unable to orchestrate Sarrismo as well as his manager would have liked.
The Welshman also managed to fill in well defensively, an aspect of Jorginho’s game which has been missing this season. He produced an excellent, albeit risky, tackle on Joey Pelupessy in the penalty area which was initially given as a penalty before being overturned by VAR.
Ampadu was then switched out to the right in the second half, swapping with Mateo Kovacic to fill N’Golo Kante’s boots – a role slightly more made for the teenager – before being taken off.
4. VAR shows both its worth and unfairness
During Saturday’s FA Cup fixtures, VAR came into the spotlight for its lack of existence in Everton’s away game against Millwall at The Den. Millwall’s second, en route to a 3-2 upset, came via Jake Cooper’s arm and would undoubtedly have been ruled out were VAR in use.
But, despite having been used the previous night at the Emirates, VAR was not in widespread use across the FA Cup fourth round – owing to facilities at certain grounds. After the defeat, Everton boss Marco Silva spoke of the unfairness as his side were undone by the lack of technology others had been afforded this weekend.
On Sunday, Chelsea were the beneficiaries of VAR being in place as it started a hectic three minutes in the first half. With Sheffield Wednesday pushing, Pelupessy went down inside the area after a challenge from Ethan Ampadu. The referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot but the wait was on as the decision was looked at.
Replays showed Ampadu had in fact produced a brilliant tackle, getting his foot on the ball before Pelupessy kicked him, and the decision was overturned – much to the annoyance of the visiting Sheffield Wednesday fans.
To make matters worse for the Championship side, Chelsea were awarded a penalty of their own three minutes later as Azpilicueta was fouled by Hutchinson, with VAR agreeing.
The two calls were absolutely correct, but it once again brought discussions on the unfairness as it was not widely available across the competition.
5. Sarri’s trophy dreams get one step closer
Maurizio Sarri is yet to win a trophy as a manager, something many Chelsea fans were wary of when he took charge last summer.
But the Italian has got himself in good stead to break that curse this season as the Blues march on the in FA Cup.
Including Chelsea, there are just five Premier League teams guaranteed in the fifth round of the FA Cup – Manchester United, Manchester City, Watford and Crystal Palace. A further two, Brighton and Wolves, must face replays before learning their fate.
Out of those teams remaining, Chelsea will look at United and City as their biggest threats, but something which can be negated in the draw goes in their favour. With Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all out, what is to stop Chelsea retaining the FA Cup?
This comes just days after Chelsea booked their place in the final of the Carabao Cup thanks to a dramatic penalty shootout win over London rivals Tottenham. Could this finally be Sarri’s year?