Chelsea battled to a 2-0 victory at the iPro Stadium against Derby County on Sunday to ensure their name is in the hat for the FA Cup fourth round.
The Blues pressed hard all game long and eventually found the net through the unlikely source of John Obi Mikel, before Oscar sealed the win with a swerving, powerful strike.
Chelsea dominated the ball and set the tempo from the jump, but failed to do anything meaningful with it.
Derby have the third-highest average possession per game in the Championship (54.6 percent), but on this occasion, they were happy to concede the ball and set up a frustrating defensive shape.
Steve McLaren set up a disciplined 4-5-1 look with two discernible banks of defenders, asked Will Hughes to press the deep-lying ball-players high up and begged the question: Can you break us down?
The visitors' best chance of the half came when Mikel won the ball high up and released Samuel Eto'o down the left-hand side. The Cameroon legend, though, ambled toward goal with no real intensity, allowed the Derby defence to catch up and failed to get a shot away.
What followed was a severe tightening at the back from the home side, and from there, the Blues were limited almost solely to long shots and half-chances.
Oscar and Willian were extremely bright sparks and displayed remarkable patience as the first half wore on, but it was Ramires who came closest just before the break.
After Willian jinked past three defenders and picked out his Brazilian colleague on the right, he slid inside and curled a left-footed shot onto the outside of the post.
The Blues started on the front foot in the second half, with Jake Buxton forced into a goal-line clearance just one minute in. Eden Hazard was then subbed on as Derby showed no signs of yielding, but tiredness eventually set in and paved the way for an away win.
Hughes' yellow card on 60 minutes epitomised the situation: A tired, longing lunge to halt Oscar in his tracks went terribly wrong and felled the playmaker.
Fatigue set in across the board, and eventually Jose Mourinho's men picked the lock; Willian's world-class delivery from a free-kick was nodded in at the near post by unlikely hero John Obi Mikel.
Shortly after, Oscar made it two, receiving the ball in a tight space and slamming an unstoppable, swerving effort past Lee Grant.
From there, Chelsea bossed the game and, but for a late five-minute spell from Derby where they came close to scoring several times, comfortably saw out the victory.
"We're going to Wembley!" was the chant emanating resoundingly from the 5,500 travelling fans. Would anyone argue against them?
|John Obi Mikel||DM||8|
Friday, Jan. 10 will see Derby face Midlands rivals Leicester at the King Power Stadium. Chelsea travel to Hull City the following day for the Premier League's early kickoff.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!