Oscar's hat trick propels Chelsea into the FA Cup fifth round
MILTON KEYNES, England -- Three points from Chelsea's 5-1 win against MK Dons in the FA Cup fourth round.
1. Chelsea cruise
Anyone who came to Stadium MK in the hope of seeing an FA Cup upset was disappointed as Chelsea swept aside a nervous and mistake-ridden MK Dons side to advance to the fifth round with a 5-1 victory.
It was never a contest, and only comic finishing from Chelsea kept the game closer than it should have been in the opening period.
In the first half-hour, the visiting side squandered chance after chance as Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Oscar miscued opportunities. Slapstick defending from the hosts ensured the London side had the last laugh, though. By the end it felt like a training exercise for Guus Hiddink's team.
Oscar earned himself the match ball with a first-half hat-trick. The Brazilian was at his brilliant best and opened the scoring after 15 minutes when Kyle McFadzean gifted the ball to Costa, who rolled the ball across the area to his teammate.
Darren Potter equalised seven minutes later after a deflection off Nemanja Matic looped the ball over Thibaut Courtois but the writing was on the wall for the Dons.
Oscar got his second when Reuben Loftus-Cheek slid a delicate ball down the inside-right channel for the Brazilian to shoot into the net from an acute angle. Oscar's third was the pick of the bunch, as he ran from the left across the face of the penalty box before whipping in a superb shot from 20 yards.
Hazard converted a penalty in the 55th minute, after he was tripped, to underline Chelsea's dominance in a tepid second half. It was the Belgian's 50th goal for the club but his first since last May. Bertrand Traore made it five with his first strike for Chelsea.
2. Muddle in the middle
There's an air of excitement around Loftus-Cheek. So few players have come through the Chelsea youth system over the past few years and hopes are high that this graduate of the academy can make a real impact at the highest level.
Loftus-Cheek's role in Oscar's second goal was delectable and throughout the game, the physically imposing 20-year-old was always looking to drive forward and play off Costa's shoulder
Such a forward-looking attitude has its down sides, though. In his haste to bear down on the opposition defence, Loftus-Cheek sometimes neglects to backtrack when his side lose the ball. He looks like a classic box-to-box midfielder but, on this occasion, displayed only half of the skillset needed to perform that sort of role.
With Oscar and Hazard equally focused on getting forward, it can leave acres of space in the Chelsea half that Cesc Fabregas and Matic cannot fill. Fabregas is sometimes slow to recognise when he should be closing down opponent and is significantly more comfortable with the ball at his feet. More committed opposition midfield runners than he encountered against the Championship side will cause the Spaniard problems.
That puts an enormous amount of pressure on Matic, who seems less mobile than last season when he was dominating Premier League midfields. Hiddink still has to find the balance he wants in the middle of the park.
In the first half, Rob Hall and Jake Forster Caskey were given running room to drive toward goal for the hosts. If Paris Saint Germain get space like that in the Champions League next month, then Chelsea will be in trouble.
3. Dons down and out
The home side struggled from the start when, almost immediately from kickoff, they passed the ball out of play. They appeared to have no belief that they could compete with Chelsea and they were right.
The interchanging and movement by the visiting side's front four left Karl Robinson's team bemused and confused. Oscar led the way but Hazard, showing signs of rejuvenation after injury, perplexed the Dons' defence with his dribbling. Chelsea were toying with their opponents, and at times it was painful to watch.
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McFadzean in particular had a day he'd like to forget. He surrendered possession, miskicked and frequently was dragged out into the no-man's land of midfield as Chelsea worked the ball around him with ease.
The Dons have found the championship difficult after last year's promotion. They can go back to the struggle against relegation at least secure in the knowledge that they will not face a side this good again this season.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC and is former football editor of The Times. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.