All of the talk at the top of the table is about Manchester City’s hunt for a historic quadruple but what a few months Chelsea will have enjoyed under Thomas Tuchel if they manage to clinch a domestic and European double.
While the Blues will take on Porto in the Champions League quarter-finals next month, on Sunday they dispatched of Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge courtesy of an Oliver Norwood own goal. The Blades, who are bottom of the Premier League and look near certainties for the drop, weren’t blown away at Stamford Bridge but when your defence is as solid as Chelsea’s one goal is all you need. In the end, they got two.
In keeping Sheffield United out, Tuchel’s side have now gone more than eleven hours since conceding a goal at home. The former PSG and Borussia Dortmund coach took over Frank Lampard in the last week of January and has overseen 12 clean sheets in 14 matches. Chelsea are a brick wall and a solid defence is where all great teams start.
Tuchel has laid down the foundations well and started from the back to the front. Chelsea actually had fewer shots and fewer on target than their visitors on Sunday but what counts is they weren’t breached. Kepa, whose Chelsea career looked long over when Edouard Mendy was brought in this summer, was given another chance in goal in the cup and with Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Emerson in front of him, the Blades couldn’t find the back of the net.
The Blues took the lead on 24 minutes when Oliver Norwood deflected Ben Chilwell’s left-footed effort into his own net as he slid to try and block the effort after Sheffield United had headed clear a corner. The Blades, playing under Paul Heckingbottom following the controversial sacking of Chris Wilder, could and certainly should have equalised with 23 minutes remaining as John Lundstram crossed into the six-yard box but striker David McGoldrick skewed his header wide. Chelsea’s backline could breathe a sigh of relief and during such runs, you sometimes need things to bounce your way. This time, it did.
The home side held firm and then clinched the victory in the second minute of injury time, substitute Hakim Ziyech getting on the scoresheet after a rapid counter. Sheffield United were looking for an elusive equaliser high up the pitch when Chelsea struck, heading on and pouncing on the attack. The ball was worked forward before Ziyech took down a cross acrobatically and rifled the ball into the net.
"I could feel a bit after the game against Atletico [Chelsea's previous match] that we were a bit tired and I could feel that it was a huge effort also mentally against Atletico,’ Tuchel said after the game.
"After that it was a big relief and then there were a lot of team changes made by me. Then you have players leaving right now for international duty so there are a lot of things to organise, many unclear situations, so there was a moment yesterday when we prepared the match and again today where I did not feel 100 per cent comfortable or sure we could continue on the same level.
"The target this week was to go to the quarter-final [in the Champions League] and to Wembley, and the team achieved both targets so a big well done to them."
It was job done for Chelsea, who march forward into the FA Cup semi-finals, where they will face Man City, and extended that glorious record of not conceding; the combined time equals nearly half a day since they last let one in on home turf. With such a rearguard, opportunities for trophy success present themselves.