Caicedo and Mudryk highlight Chelsea’s muddled thinking

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Moisés Caicedo;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Moisés Caicedo</a>, here battling with Leeds’s Archie Gray, has struggled since his move from <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Brighton;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Brighton</a> for a record fee that could rise to £115m.</span><span>Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP</span>

Had things turned out differently, Moisés Caicedo and Mykhailo Mudryk could have had their feet up this week as they prepared for Arsenal’s trip to face Sheffield United in the Premier League on Monday night. Instead, the pair who could end up costing Chelsea almost £200m to sign found themselves thrust into the firing line again just three days after the disheartening defeat by Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final.

Yet while both had a part to play as Mauricio Pochettino’s side eventually saw off a spirited performance from Leeds, it was left to a player who cost nothing to book their progress into the sixth round. The irony is that Conor Gallagher may have to be sold in the summer to balance the books after an unprecedented spending spree of more than £1bn. On this evidence, they should do all they can to keep him.

Related: Conor Gallagher keeps his nerve as Chelsea beat Leeds to reach last eight

Pochettino had promised there would be a reaction from his players after their Wembley nightmare, admitting in his programme notes that there was “not much” he could say to his players in the immediate aftermath “because they need to feel the pain before they can move on”.

Caicedo came in for heavy criticism for his display against Liverpool, who also wanted to sign him in the summer from Brighton for what turned out to be a British record fee that could rise to £115m. While he was at fault for the opening goal from Mateo Joseph, the Ecuador midfielder did set up Nicolas Jackson for Chelsea’s instant equaliser but is still a shadow of the player who was so sought after last summer. Arsenal, who had made him and Mudryk their primary transfer targets last January, baulked at Brighton’s proposed fee for Caicedo and turned their attentions to signing Declan Rice instead in the summer.

Mudryk was reported this week to have been in tears when he called Arsenal after his proposed move to north London failed to materialise when Chelsea entered the race for his signature with a late bid. An initial fee of £60m that could rise to £90m blew Mikel Arteta’s side out of the water and was described at the time as “insane” by the Brentford manager, Thomas Frank. But even if Mudryk showed glimpses of his immense talent before fading having started in a No 10 role here, the feeling of frustration is never too far away either. “He needs time,” Pochettino said of the 23-year-old.

This was the first time these two clubs had met in this competition since the famous 1970 final that was eventually settled by David Webb’s goal in extra time of the replay at Old Trafford. But while there remains no love lost between them and Chelsea had won their past six Premier League matches here against Leeds, the travelling supporters arrived in west London with genuine hopes of an upset having gone unbeaten since the end of December.

Most were in the party mood and greeted Raheem Sterling miscuing his cross straight out of play inside the opening five minutes after a clever pass from Mudryk with howls of derision. The prospect of a famous victory seemed even more possible when Joseph, who was born in Spain and is a second cousin of the former England striker Emile Heskey, capitalised on a mix‑up between Axel Disasi and Caicedo as Chelsea attempted to play out of defence.

To Pochettino’s relief, they hit back immediately and an excellent piece of interplay between Caicedo and Noni Madueke provided Jackson with the chance to equalise. Some Chelsea fans greeted that goal with a muted chorus of “We’ve won it all”, while one brandished a banner referencing their comeback win against Crystal Palace a few weeks ago that read “Don’t worry about a thing”.

That peace of mind has not seemed possible for Mudryk since his high-profile move to Stamford Bridge last January but there is nothing like scoring goals to give a player confidence. Having been targeted by the away fans minutes earlier when he went over to take a corner, he took great joy celebrating in front of them when he swept home Sterling’s cross with a brilliant first-time finish.

Pochettino certainly seemed to appreciate his efforts, encouragingly patting his forward on the backside after he managed to keep a ball from going out of play right in front of the dugouts.

Caicedo’s rash booking for a reckless challenge on Joseph three minutes into the second half – his ninth of the season – hinted that Chelsea were in for a scrap after the break. And so it proved when Jaidon Anthony picked out Joseph to equalise deservedly after a period of concerted pressure from the hosts.

Having failed to have much more of an impact on proceedings, Mudryk might have thought his evening was over when he miscontrolled the ball out of play off his shin but instead Pochettino opted to withdraw Sterling to a chorus of boos from the home supporters for the second game in succession. In the end, it was Gallagher who saved Chelsea’s blushes.