Chelsea beat Leicester to progress to the semi finals of the FA Cup as Ross Barkley struck the winner at the King Power Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
During a much improved second half display from the Blues, substitute Barkley cooly converted Willian’s cross to send the visitors to Wembley.
Leicester had the better of the first half but, despite some sloppy defensive play, Chelsea came closest through Christian Pulisic. Manager Frank Lampard brought on three players, including Barkley, at the break, a switch which moved Chelsea into the ascendancy before Tammy Abraham’s smart finish was ruled out for offside.
Barkley eventually put Chelsea, and while Leicester huffed and puffed in the later stages of the game, Brendan Rodgers’ side couldn’t find the breakthrough.
Key Talking Point
Leicester were dealt a pre-match blow when James Maddison was struck down by injury, ruling him out of the squad entirely, but they still started the game with great intent, with the pace of Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy in particular stretching the Blues’ defence.
Youri Tielemans forced a save from Willy Caballero and Jonny Evans headed wide from a Ben Chilwell free-kick on the half hour mark, but Leicester couldn’t make the inroads that their dominance warranted.
The Foxes couldn’t capitalise on their early possession and were made to pay in the second half as Chelsea asserted their dominance, helped largely by their half-time changes.
They missed the creativity of Maddison in the middle of the park and although they created promising attacks, particularly down the left through Barnes and Chilwell, they weren’t efficient in the final third, leaving Vardy with scraps to work with.
Their composure at the back fell apart after the break and their midfielders, particularly the usually reliable Wilfred Ndidi, were too slow to support the back line as Barkley slotted home.
Starting XI: Schmeichel (7*); Justin (6), Soyuncu (6), Evans (6), Chilwell (7); Perez (6), Tielemans (6), Ndidi (7), Praet (6), Barnes (7); Vardy (7).
Substitutes: Choudhury (5), Albrighton (6), Gray (6).
Leicester’s captain was one of the few bright sparks in a largely disappointing afternoon for the Foxes.
He saved well from Pulisic in the first half and Barkley late on, and dealt well with crosses all afternoon as Chelsea grew into the match.
Key Talking Point
Lampard, with fatigue in mind, fielded a changed and youthful side with Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Abraham all starting. The unfamiliar lineup began rather shakily, with Leicester winning the ball in midfield with worrying regularity.
Sloppy and sluggish passing meant the Blues were not able to sustain regular control of possession, but they eventually grew into the game and came close through Pulisic, whose fierce shot was well saved by Schmeichel.
Lampard rung the changes at half time, bringing on Barkley and Mateo Kovacic into midfield and captain Cesar Azpilicueta to bolster the defence. The moves made an instant impact, sparking more energy through the middle for the Blues, and they looked in control throughout the second half.
Starting XI: Caballero (7); James (5), Rudiger (7), Zouma (6), Emerson (7); Kante (7), Gilmour (6), Mount (6); Willian (7), Abraham (6), Pulisic (8*).
Substitutes: Barkley (8), Kovacic (7), Azpilicueta (7), Loftus-Cheek (6), Pedro (6).
Pulisic was once again Chelsea’s brightest spark going forward, with Leicester struggling to contain his pace and trickery for much of the match until he was withdrawn with 75 minutes gone.
The American came close to scoring in the first half and linked up well with Abraham on a couple of occasions. Going off his last few performances, the American will surely be key to Chelsea’s run-in.
Leicester are back in Premier League action at Goodison Park on Wednesday evening when they take on Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton, before they entertain Crystal Palace at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Chelsea begin a run of favourable league fixtures with a trip across London to take on struggling West Ham on Wednesday, before a home tie against relegation scrappers Watford on Saturday. They will find out their FA Cup semi final opponents on Sunday evening.