Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesc Fabregas star as Chelsea ease through
Chelsea safely negotiated the third round of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Scunthorpe United at Stamford Bridge. It was a performance that relied on professionalism rather than the spectacular but, given the team's travails this season, such an outcome was perfectly acceptable.
With silverware always the ultimate objective at Chelsea, manager Guus Hiddink selected a strong starting XI containing plenty of experience and they began the game on the front foot. It seemed to be only a matter of time until the deadlock was broken and it came when a pinpoint cross from Branislav Ivanovic found Diego Costa to coolly sidefoot home after 13 minutes.
Despite exerting pressure on the visitors' defence, Chelsea were unable to add another before half-time with both Pedro and Cesc Fabregas drawing excellent saves out of Scunthorpe goalkeeper Luke Daniels. The League One side emerged for the second half with renewed vigour and instructions to close down the Premier League champions at every given opportunity. The tactic brought some rewards as Scunthorpe saw more of the ball and gained a foothold in the game.
They were even somewhat unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Ramires appeared to clip the heels of Kevin van Veen, though contact was minimal and there was enough doubt to persuade Craig Pawson to wave the appeals away.
The result was sealed when 19-year-old Ruben Loftus Cheek -- a half time substitute -- netted his first senior goal for Chelsea after brilliant build-up play that involved Cesar Azpilicueta.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Asmir Begovic, 6 -- Was rarely called into action, though did tip a rasping effort from Jordan Clarke onto the post. However, he blotted his copybook with one errant kick that set up a Scunthorpe attack and also spilled a corner in second-half stoppage time.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 8 -- A typically assured defensive performance from the Spaniard, whose name has become a byword for dependability. His excellent overlapping run and cross set up Loftus-Cheek for the second goal.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 6 -- Had a reasonably solid game but let himself down by giving away a couple of needless free kicks in dangerous areas. Also got booked after preventing Scunthorpe from taking a quick throw.
DF Kurt Zouma, 7 -- A commanding display as he snuffed out many attempts that the visitors made to get behind the Chelsea defence. His lightning pace and exquisite timing of the tackle was evident on several occasions.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- Apart from one sloppy pass in the first half that required Zouma to bail him out, the England international had a good day. Put his body on the line when necessary and organised the back line effectively.
MF Ramires, 6 -- Mopped up in midfield to good effect but found too many of his passes went astray in the first half. Improved in that aspect after the break, though he still did his best work without the ball.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 8 -- An excellent performance from the team's conductor-in-chief, even if it was against a team 45 places lower in the football pyramid. Fabregas played as if he had all the time in the world and carved out a number of chances while being only a set of fingertips away from scoring himself.
MF Oscar, 7 -- Linked up well with Willian and Costa during the first half. Curled a lovely effort just wide of goal before being withdrawn at the break to given Loftus-Cheek some game time
FW Pedro, 6 -- A frustrating game for the Spanish World Cup winner, who produced lots of effort but little end product. Saw a shot sting the palms of Daniels but wasted another effort and was largely ineffectual.
FW Willian, 7 -- Although his fabled set-piece delivery was found wanting, his decision-making in open play was excellent. Along with Fabregas, the Brazilian always looked the most likely to unpick the lock.
FW Diego Costa, 7 -- Made it four goals in his last three appearances to suggest his early-season malaise might just be behind him. Was notably more direct than usual and did not get drawn into any ugly confrontations. Encouraging signs for the future.
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MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 8 -- Took his goal very well and celebrated with passion. Before that, he had already shown examples of skill to twist the Scunthorpe defence one way and then the other. It is to be hoped that his performance will earn him more minutes in the coming weeks.
FW Kenedy, NR -- Showed plenty of endeavour but was unable to make a telling contribution in his 18 minutes on the pitch.
FW Bertrand Traore, NR -- Barely touched the ball after being introduced late on.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.