Chelsea edged past Aston Villa into the fourth round of the EFL Cup with man of the match Reece James making two vital contributions to the cause.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Malang Sarr were handed rare starts as Thomas Tuchel made 10 changes to the starting eleven that defeated Tottenham 3-0 on Sunday. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was the only player to retain his place.
Aston Villa also shuffled their pack, with Dean Smith selecting Cameron Archer to lead the line as one of nine alterations made.
And it was Archer who was handed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock inside eight minutes. Played through on goal by Morgan Sanson, the young forward lost his composure t the critical moment when firing over the bar under pressure from Kepa.
Offered a rare start up front, Timo Werner tried to spark his side into life when living on the last defender and running the channels.
Though after 20 minutes, Chelsea clearly lacking their usual attacking fluency in the absences of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz.
Saul Niguez was given license to roam further forward and got his head to a whipped delivery from the right. But under the close attentions of Matty Cash, the Spaniard could not trouble Jed Steer in goal.
— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) September 22, 2021
Hakim Ziyech tried his luck after quick feet fashioned a shooting opportunity from the edge of the area. The Moroccan’s strike was too central, however, allowing Steer to gather comfortably.ADVERTISEMENT
Villa were struggling to sustain possession for any length of time as half wore on. Their hopes of landing a positive result then suffered a blow when Sanson succumbed to injury and was replaced by 17-year-old Carney Chukwuemeka.
On the stroke of half time, Villa spurned two glorious chances to deliver a sucker punch against the run of play. Kepa first saved Archer’s strike with his chest in a one-v-one situation.
The ball rebounded to Anwar El Ghazi with Kepa stranded out of position, but Reece James was on hand to hook the forward’s tame shot off the line.
Big save from Kepa before Reece James clears off the line from El Ghazi just before the break.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 22, 2021
Tuchel reversed his inspired substitute at the weekend when bringing Mason Mount on to replace N’Golo Kante to start the second half.
Callum Hudson-Odoi was posing Ashley Young all manner of problems down the right. With a clear advantage in the pace department, the Villa veteran’s only tactic was to drop off and hope the wing-back’s dribbling ability deserted him.
And it was down the right flank that Chelsea finally found the breakthrough in the 54th minute.
Adopting a dangerous position 10 yards in-field, James picked out Werner with a pin-point delivery. The German would make no mistake with his finish on this occasion, guiding his close-range header beyond Steer to make it 1-0.ADVERTISEMENT
That loosened the shackles and both Werner and Ziyech went close to doubling the advantage moments later.
But while the advantage remained just a single goal, Villa were always in the contest. And in similar vein to how Chelsea broke the deadlock, Villa equalised through 19-year-old Archer.
A whipped cross from Cash picked out the onrushing Archer in stride. The young forward emphatically buried his header into the top corner with Kepa rooted to the spot.
Cameron Archer’s goal is the first conceded in open play by Chelsea this season.
It is also only the second headed goal Chelsea have conceded since Thomas Tuchel took charge.
— Adam Newson (@AdamNewson) September 22, 2021
Mount almost hit back immediately when a pair of silky touches crafted a yard of space from a corner, though his prodded effort curled narrowly wide.
With 15 minutes remaining, Tuchel played his ace when introducing Romelu Lukaku to the action. The Belgian almost made a telling contribution when haring down on goal, but a perfectly times Kortney Hause challenge thwarted the striker at the critical moment.
Loftus-Cheek saw a late headed chance go begging, cementing both sides to the dreaded penalty shoot-out fate.
El Ghazi buried his penalty high into the top corner. Lukaku sent Steer the wrong way to level the scores.
Young blasted the ball onto the crossbar and the woodwork won. Mount put the Blues 2-1 in front.
Nakamba saw his spot-kick saved by Kepa to put Villa in a deep hole. Barkley made no mistake to make it 3-1.
Ezri Konsa kept his cool to keep Villa alive. Ben Chilwell hit the bar as Chelsea’s first opportunity to advance went begging. 3-2.
Emiliano Buendia sent Kepa the wrong way to level the scores. James kept his cool and fired the ball into the top corner to put Chelsea through to the EFL Cup fourth round 4-3 on penalties.