Ross Barkley came off the bench to send Chelsea to Wembley as manager Frank Lampard’s half-time changes transformed this FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester City.
The Foxes held sway in the first 45 minutes at the King Power Stadium, although it took a flying save from Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel to keep out Christian Pulisic’s powerful drive.
Lampard’s discontent could be heard echoing around the virtually deserted arena – and he acted by introducing Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Cesar Azpilicueta at the interval for Reece James, the subdued Billy Gilmour and Mason Mount.
It had the desired effect as Chelsea improved markedly. Barkley, who was on target in the 2-0 win against Liverpool in the last round, scoring the winner after 63 minutes when he reacted to get in just ahead of Jonny Evans and sweep Willian’s clever cross past Schmeichel.
Leicester, missing the injured James Maddison, were out of sorts after the break although they applied late pressure and defender Caglar Soyuncu was frustrated late on when his header struck Azpilicueta and flew over.
Lampard’s reshuffle does the trick
An FA Cup quarter-final behind closed doors contains little of the passion and noise that usually accompanies these occasions, with a place in the last four at stake.
It did, however, enable those few of us inside the ground to hear several loud blasts of “liven up, liven up” from Chelsea manager Lampard as he expressed his displeasure at his side’s early inability to cope with Leicester City’s bright start.
Leicester failed to make the most of possession in the first 45 minutes and Lampard was able to make those substitutions that swung the game back in Chelsea’s favour.
Talented youngster Billy Gilmour had one of those halves all young players can have, giving the ball away too much and having little impact – he will learn from this.
Barkley came on and was Chelsea’s FA Cup talisman again, scoring the winner and almost adding a second in the last minute, forcing an unorthodox save from Schmeichel.
It also demonstrated Chelsea’s squad strength as Lampard was able to introduce such experience and ability.
Lampard and Chelsea have had an impressive re-start, winning at Aston Villa and getting a crucial three points at home to Manchester City in the Premier League. Those results kept them right on course for a top-four finish and now they are in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Leicester’s lack of spark will worry Rodgers
Leicester’s City last game before the Premier League closed down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in early March was an impressive 4-0 demolition of troubled Aston Villa at the King Power.
It has been different since the re-start as they have struggled to draws at Watford and at home to Brighton before this disappointing FA Cup defeat.
Manager Brendan Rodgers will have held high hopes of cup success after falling to Villa at the semi-final stage in the Carabao Cup – and this result and performance will have increased a few anxieties around the club.
Leicester have had a superb season in the Premier League but they will be looking over their shoulders at Chelsea, who are a point behind them in fourth, as well as Wolves, who are only three points adrift – although they have played a game more.
There was no doubt Leicester missed Maddison, out with a knock, as his link-up play with Vardy was sorely missed, the striker making his trademark runs but getting very little quality service.
Leicester will remain optimistic and there is hardly any need to get carried away, but they need to re-discover the spark that made them such a potent force in the first seven months of this interrupted season.
Another quarter-final exit for Leicester – the stats
- Chelsea have won 11 of their last 12 FA Cup matches, only losing to Manchester United in last season’s fifth round in this run.
- Leicester have now lost each of their last five quarter-final matches in the FA Cup – with each of the last three being against Chelsea (also 2012 and 2018).
- Chelsea have reached the semi-final of the FA Cup for a 10th time in the 21st Century, a joint-high in this time along with Arsenal (also 10 when including 2020).
- Leicester City boss Rodgers is winless in all 15 of his meetings with Chelsea as a manager (drawn eight, lost seven), the most times he has faced a single opponent without winning in his managerial career.
- This was the first time that Leicester had conceded a goal in this season’s FA Cup, making them the last of the 123 sides to participate in the competition proper in 2019-20 to concede a goal.
- Chelsea have won five consecutive matches across all competitions, their best such winning run since they won seven in succession between September and October 2019.
- Chelsea’s Barkley has scored three of his four goals in all competitions this season in the FA Cup; those three goals (four FA Cup games) are as many as he netted in 16 appearances in the FA Cup prior to 2019-20.
- Since his competition debut in January 2014, Willian has been directly involved in 17 FA Cup goals (11 goals, six assists); this is at least six more than any other Chelsea player in this time.
Man of the match – Ross Barkley (Chelsea)
‘We deserved more’ – what they said
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers speaking to BBC Sport: “I thought the performance was very good, much more like us in terms of tempo and speed and pressing.
“We know we can score goals, but in these first three games since the restart we haven’t been as clinical. I was pleased for the boys in terms of the performance.
“We haven’t been able to take those opportunities. We switch off for one second and they get the goal. I feel for the players because they deserved more.
On James Maddison’s injury: “We’ll look at that – he’ll be a doubt [for Everton on Wednesday]. If he’s not fit for midweek he’ll be fit for the weekend.”
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, speaking to BBC Sport: “The result was satisfying and getting to the semis was satisfying. We weren’t our usual selves – we were below what we usually produce – but I’m happy with the result. We won and must learn from some of the mistakes.
“I don’t want to sound too down. You have to show grit to win when you don’t play well. We go on to the next one. We can park the cup and focus on getting the league wins to be in the Champions League.”
On taking off young players at half-time: “It’s a learning experience. I could’ve taken more off, or other players off. I’m not pulling those out on their own. They will be top players for this club and have top careers. But if I have to do something I will. It was one of those games where I had to do something. They will take it on the chin.
“We were gifting Leicester space and ease to win the ball back. We are fortunate they didn’t take those chances. All three subs livened up the performance.
On Ross Barkley: “I love to work with midfielders and the ones who want to get forward. Ross has a better left foot than me. He’s always going to be a goal threat.”