Chelsea are into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup after an edgy victory over a Barnsley side who made proceedings awkward for Thomas Tuchel’s team. If the eight-times winners hardly convinced the bottom line is that they next host Sheffield United and will fancy their chances of sealing a semi-final outing at Wembley.
Tuchel can be content as his side found a way to win and maintain his unbeaten start as Chelsea manager. Another plus is how his players fought to defend Tammy Abraham’s decisive 64th-minute strike, the latter himself making one headed clearance from under the bar as full time neared.
“He scores a decisive goal and the stop on the line was crucial,” Tuchel said of his match-winner. “I have to be honest, yes I am [relieved]. We can stop the analysis at what is done: Chelsea are through, full stop. We can clearly play better.
“We have to admit we struggled but in the Cup it is sometimes like this. I don’t want to be too harsh on the guys. We are happy we can play Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge because it saves us a lot of travel. We will prepare for an intense game.”
For Barnsley there will be reflection on a classic what-might-have-been story. They just could not capitalise where it counts – in the danger area – though Valérien Ismaël was correctly proud of his team. “It’s exactly the game we wanted, we made a great performance,” he said. “We could see how far we can bring our principles, to make Chelsea make mistakes, we did it perfectly in the first half but we had to score. Tonight we go to bed with a good feeling.”
Everton’s reward for their thrilling 5-4 victory over Spurs is a FA Cup quarter-final tie against the Premier League leaders Manchester City.
City, six-times winners who last lifted the FA Cup in 2019, will travel to Goodison Park on the weekend of 20-21 March with Pep Guardiola’s side still hoping to complete the quadruple. As well as their FA Cup exploits, City are top of the league by five points, into the knockout stages of the Champions League and face Tottenham in the April’s Carabao Cup final.
Manchester United, who beat West Ham 1-0 in the fifth round, visit Leicester City, having drawn 2-2 in the Premier League in that fixture back in December. Leicester, four-times losing finalists, have never won the FA Cup.
Chelsea, victors over Barnsley last night, face Sheffield United, with the Blades aiming to use a cup run to reignite their league form. Chelsea were beaten finalists by Arsenal last year and only the Gunners (14) and Manchester United (12) have won the FA Cup on more occasions than the Blues.
Southampton, who beat Wolves last night, face a trip to neighbours Bournemouth.
Quarter-final draw in full
Everton v Manchester City
Bournemouth v Southampton
Leicester City v Manchester United
Chelsea v Sheffield United
Ties to be played the weekend of 20-21 March
Ismaël’s side are 13th in the Championship and the Frenchman arranged them in a 3-4-3 formation. Tuchel retained only Andreas Christensen from Sunday’s win at Sheffield United. After Barnsley enjoyed an opening passage of pressure Chelsea began to assert themselves. Abraham, a factor throughout, appeared to have a good shout for a penalty turned down by the referee, Martin Atkinson, who indicated that Toby Sibbick had taken the ball.
On a surface that was looking increasingly cut-up, Chelsea’s collective class showed as Billy Gilmour, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi impressed. Yet the Alex Mowatt-Callum Brittain axis was potent for Barnsley: following an earlier combination in which Brittain forced Kepa Arrizabalaga into a close-range save, another ball in from the left from Mowatt had his teammate running in to head until Marcos Alonso cleared.
Barnsley ended the half as they started: with a corner. If Arrizabalaga clutched that delivery, the one moments before was a different story. Taken from the right-hand side by Mowatt, the ball was worked to Brittain via Conor Chaplin. His effort was goal-bound before taking a deflection.
For the second half Alonso and Christensen – who took a knock to the head – were replaced by Reece James and Antonio Rüdiger. Tuchel’s instructions were obviously to inject more pace into Chelsea’s play, N’Golo Kanté doing just that with one pass that zipped across the bobbly surface though Gilmour could not control.
Barnsley, to their credit, would not allow Chelsea to settle and it was a pity there were no home fans present as they would have delighted in their side’s display. On the touchline an angry Tuchel had invective for Abraham when his off-target flick to Gilmour meant another Chelsea move went awry. Better was a Hudson-Odoi run that cut through Barnsley but his attempt was wide.
Then, at last, came the breakthrough. Tuchel could be particularly pleased as his introduction of James proved pivotal: from Gilmour’s impressive pass, the right-back’s sprint took him clear and when he tapped to Abraham, the striker was left with a simple close-range finish. Then, later, came the No 9’s clearance.
Abraham said: “I grew up being a defender so it was instinctive reactions – being in the right place. Coming here is never easy. Give credit to them: they are a good side.” He is right.