Chelsea hand Pochettino much-needed win to blast Aston Villa out of the FA Cup

Conor Gallagher, Nicolas Jackson and Enzo Fernandez all strike for Chelsea as Villa respond with a consolation from Moussa Diaby

FA Cup: Aston Villa 1 Chelsea 3

If Mauricio Pochettino could have scripted a redemption game, it would have gone something like this. Everything the Chelsea manager touched turned to gold as his Carabao Cup finalists waltzed into the last 16 of the FA Cup, responding to two four-goal concessions in the Premier League by outplaying Aston Villa to land a home tie with Championship opponents Leeds.

Pochettino reacted to the farrago over Thiago Silva’s wife hinting on X that the manager should go by leaving out his classiest, if oldest, defender and then reintroducing him for the final minutes of a valedictory evening.

It was an evening when the Chelsea manager came up with a tactical plan to remind us why he has always been so highly rated. Reports of his demise as a coach of world standing may yet have been exaggerated.

Not even a consolation goal from Moussa Diaby could take the gloss off Pochettino’s night as Villa’s stumblings continued. Chelsea’s thrashings by Liverpool and Wolves have, if not been forgotten, then at least balanced out.


Stunningly, Chelsea were two goals ahead in an opening 21 minutes as stretched and thrilling as if it were the final 21. It was as shocking for the Chelsea fans as anyone else. “Never mind Maidstone United,” as one wag suggested, “there’s a real FA Cup shock on the cards here.”

Villa spent the first half of this season bamboozling opponents with their superb movement going forwards, Ollie Watkins usually partnered by a wide player given licence to roam the channels in front of a midfield box four. But maybe opponents have worked them out. Certainly Pochettino found a way.

Chelsea looked characteristically easy to slice apart in the opening minutes as Matt Cash’s centre from the right side found Àlex Moreno in space at the far post only for his header to fall behind Watkins. However, Villa were soon hoisted by their own petard.

Pochettino asked the recalled duo of Nicolas Jackson, on the left, and Noni Madueke to play high and wide, with Cole Palmer and Conor Gallagher operating as the most advanced central players.

This prevented Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara dictating the tempo of the game, and allowed Chelsea to get out and beyond John McGinn and Youri Tielemans.

In anticipation of their Carabao Cup final against Liverpool later this month, Chelsea fans were already singing “We’re all going to Wembley” as Kamara lost possession easily in midfield. Jackson probed menacingly down left wing; when his cross-shot was deflected, Madueke teed the ball back for Gallagher to sidefoot into the top corner from 12 yards. It was his first goal since last May, and a crucial one for Pochettino.

But Villa did not adapt. Madueke frequently got away down the right, ably supported by Malo Gusto and where Moreno was enduring a nightmare, not helped by the lack of comradeship from McGinn.

The hosts almost pulled a goal back when Watkins squared for McGinn to shovel a powerful but straight shot that Djordje Petrovic tipped over. But following their sluggish recent home form, Unai Emery’s side continued to struggle. Even against Chelsea.

Villa had lost their first Premier League game at home in 18 matches, a run stretching back to last February, when getting outgunned by Newcastle eight nights earlier and their sights appeared to be narrowing back on those top-four ambitions when they conceded a third goal nine minutes into the second half.

Enzo Fernández earned a dead-ball opportunity when, preparing to shoot at goal from 25 yards out, he was tripped by up by Tielemans. The Argentina playmaker then posted his free-kick into the top corner of his compatriot’s goal, Emiliano Martínez managing to scratch the ball with his fingertips, to set Chelsea up for only their second win in eight away games.

Fernández, signed as a World Cup winner for £106.8m just over 12 months ago, has been such an emblem of Chelsea’s profligate spending in the Todd Boehly era that it has been hard to judge him as a young player adjusting to a new country and league. But he has not ripped any trees up, that is for sure. So much so, rumours have emerged that he wanted to leave.

His reaction to the goal, as he took his shirt off to show to the celebrating away fans and point to the ground, emphasised his statement that he wants to stay.

- Guardian

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