Chelsea’s debut in the inaugural Barclays Under-21 Premier League Cup saw an emphatic 4-0 win away to Cardiff City as the Blues booked themselves a home date against London rivals West Ham in the Quarter Finals.
Lewis Baker’s first half penalty separated the two sides at the end of a quiet first half but a rampant display thereafter saw Alex Kiwomya and Jeremie Boga come off the bench to add to a scoreline already extended after an unfortunate Cardiff own goal. It was a display of clinical execution and whilst the final score might have arguably been harsh on Cardiff, it was certainly justified by Chelsea.
Dermot Drummy fielded a largely familiar team but took the opportunity to hand starts to three youngsters who have struggled for playing time so far this season. Alex Davey and Daniel Pappoe partnered each other at the heart of a defence which also featured Adam Nditi, whilst there was a return from injury for Isak Ssewankambo at the right full back spot.
Jamal Blackman provided an experienced hand in goal whilst captain Nathan Aké anchored a midfield which took a 4-3-3 shape rather than the customary 4-2-3-1 look; a decision which allowed Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to adopt more attacking roles ahead of him. Islam Feruz led the line in attack flanked by Isaiah Brown and John Swift.
Cardiff, by way of comparison, fielded two over-age players in forward Etien Velikonja (nearly 25) and defender Filip Kiss (23) but otherwise took to the field with a young team which has been in impressive form so far this season in the Category 2 and 3 Under-21 league.
They started the game passively though, allowing Chelsea a lot of possession and defending deep to prevent it from going anywhere dangerous. They succeeded in doing that for the first ten minutes but as soon as the Blues penetrated the red wall and found their way into the box, they reaped immediate rewards. Brown took on Theo Wharton down the left wing and drew a mistimed challenge from the defender inside the box for a penalty kick.
Baker stepped up to do what he usually does from twelve yards, beating goalkeeper Ben Wilson with a confident strike into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
The Bluebirds might have been level within two minutes but Brad Williams saw his far post header saved very well by Blackman, although both the accuracy and the conviction of the effort might have been better. It was also to prove their sole clear cut chance of the first half, as they were generally limited to set pieces; the most notable of which was slammed wide by Velikonja midway through the opening 45 minutes.
Chelsea scarcely tested Wilson either, but looked considerably more dangerous and had half chances fall to Feruz, Loftus-Cheek and Swift, but a combination of defensive blocks and wayward finishes kept the lead to a single goal at the break. The other noteworthy incident of the half saw Nditi booked for his part in an awkward collision with Luke Coulson down on the near touchline.
Brown, having won the early penalty, caught the eye on a regular basis for his diligent and consistent work at both ends of the pitch, particularly in winning the ball back and creating opportunities for the Blues to transition into attack. After a very bright start to the season, the former West Brom man has had a quieter time of it in recent weeks but looked very sharp on this Friday evening in South Wales.
A very lively start to the second half from the visitors extended the lead within five minutes of the restart, and it came about after some energetic play by Feruz. He latched onto smart approach play from Baker and Swift and eventually got a shot off at the end of some goalmouth pinball, and although Kane Owen cleared off the line, he slammed the ball into the back of goalkeeper Wilson laying prone on the floor. The ball flew into the back of the net for 2-0.
Feruz then asked Wilson to make a smart stop at his near post before making way for Kiwomya, perhaps having picked up a knock when taking a heavy tackle from the Cardiff stopper minutes earlier.
Two quickly became three as Kiwomya made an immediate impact, latching onto a long pass upfield before nudging the ball past Joe Yorwerth and lobbing the advancing Wilson from the edge of the box. Playing through the middle for the first time this season, his pace and movement caused panic amongst the home defence and he took full advantage.
The increase in tempo and intensity was tangible and no doubt the result of half time instruction from Drummy, and Baker could have widened the gulf between the two sides were it not for a wayward finish from just outside the penalty area. Pappoe then made way for Andreas Christensen with just under an hour of the match played and Boga replaced the impressive Brown a few minutes later; playing time being spread around in a busy schedule for the team.
Cardiff produced a moment of momentary respite as Kiss strode forward and curled the ball towards goal from a long way out, but it was a tame effort that was easily snaffled by Blackman. In response, Chelsea added a fourth as Boga played a neat one-two just outside the box before drilling home to become the second substitute to make his presence felt.
At 4-0 and with the game well and truly over as a contest, the away team eased off the gas a little and focused on moving the ball purposefully and quickly whilst seeking to maintain their clean sheet. Nditi and Ssewankambo still found the time and energy to get into advanced areas with promise but both lacked the final product in their deliveries, whilst there was almost another goal when Baker’s left-footed free kick was superbly saved by the beleaguered Wilson, who tipped the ball onto the crossbar.
Baker went close once again in stoppage time with a glancing header from Kiwomya’s cross but Chelsea declared at four and have added the West Ham game in the last eight – which must be played before Christmas – to a hectic couple of weeks for the club at all levels both at home and abroad.
Cardiff City: Wilson, Coulson (c), Owen, Kiss (Bell 79), Yorwerth, Amondarain, Williams (Bowen 70), Wharton, Velikonja (Griffiths 79), Healey, O’Sullivan
Subs not Used: Matthews, James
Chelsea: Blackman, Ssewankambo, Davey, Pappoe (Christensen 56), Nditi, Aké (c), Loftus-Cheek, Baker, Swift, Brown (Boga 62), Feruz (Kiwomya 50)
Subs not Used: Beeney, Dabo