BY PAUL LAGAN
Alvaro Morata blasted Chelsea into the 4th Round of the FA Cup with two goals that sunk, energetic bit otherwise toothless Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge this afternoon but the emotion of the game was left to Cesc Fabregas who limped off five minutes from time – his last game in trophy-laden four and a half years with the Blues.
All the players clapped him off as he waved and clapped to they appreciative crowd.
He got hugs from Eden Hazard, David Zappacosta and head coach Maurizio Sarri.
The second half strikes, both in the space of 10 minutes saw off the visitors. But the Blues had numerous chances to have killed the game off by then – a miserable penalty miss by Cesc Fabregas the most glaring.
With one eye on Tuesday’s Carabao Cup 1st leg semi-final at Wembley against Spurs, it was a much-changed side from the 0-0 Premier League draw midweek took to the pitch against Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge.
Fabregas, playing his yet to b confirmed final match for the Blues before he heads off to Monaco later this month, was handed the captain’s armband. In midfield, head coach Maurizio Sarri opted to play defender Ethan Ampadu in the ‘Kante’ role, while Callum Hudson-Odoi, played on the left. His move to Bayern Munich, with a £30million offer on the table, is still in the balance as the Blues seek to tie him down to a new contract.
As for the game, after a slow start by both sides, the first effort on goal, on 13 minutes, fell to misfiring Alvaro Morata, who had a point-blank header from six yards, saved by Luke Steel after an excellent right cross by David Zappacosta.
Emerson then saw an edge of the penalty area free kick inch over the visitors’ crossbar.
Morata claimed a penalty two minutes later, when he felt he was clean through and Claudio Yacob, had tripped him up. Referee Andrew Madley waved play on, suggesting the Spain forward tripped over.
A zipping drive by Zappacosta took a defection off Danny Fox for a corner as the Blues piled on the pressure.
Chelsea’s bench were furious that Hudson-Odoi failed to hit the deck in the Forest penalty area when Tendayi Darikwa appeared to clip him.
The youngster, 18, stayed on his feet but the chance of a penalty and a goal was lost.
Madley had no option a minute later than to award a legitimate penalty, when a sweeping pass by David Luiz found Zappacosta on the right. He fed Loftus-Cheek. Fox upended the midfielder giving a stonewall penalty.
Whoever suggested that Fabregas should have taken the spot-kick, whether through sentiment or footballing decision was wrong.
The midfield took a slow run up, stopped started again and poked a low, drive towards Steele’s right post – but the goalkeeper, well off his line, took a chance, dived to his right and snaffled the ball to safety.
Steele then produced a wonder save to thwart Zappacosta as the Blues forced the visitors back.
Loftus-Cheek’s game ended three minutes before the break, Eden Hazard replaced the wide midfielder who had taken a knock. He was crying as he walked down the tunnel. A flare-up of his recent back injury the most likely cause.
There were no further changes at half-time.
The Blues finally broke the back of Forest four minutes after the restart. Hudson-Odoi, now on the right, skinned his marker Saidy Janko, and sent in a low, fierce, byline drive. Morata, instinctively pushed forward and smacked home a deft right-footer past Steele from six yards out.
Morata then missed the sitter of the century. Simply put. He somehow managed, unchallenged, free in front of an empty goal to side-foot the ball over the crossbar from an Emerson cross.
He made up for it seconds later on 59 minutes, by heading home another brilliant cross by Hudson-Odoi.
The lack of joy on the striker’s face when scoring is the clearest indicator that he is not in a happy place. The chance of a loan move to Seville is a get-out option he is considering.
Sarri decided to replace Morata for Cesar Azpilicueta. Morata headed down the tunnel – suggesting he might have an injury.
Fabregas’s game ended with an injury, five minutes from time – he was replaced by N’Golo Kante.
All the players rose up to clap the midfielder off the pitch and he even got a hug from Sarri.
The draw for the 4th Round of the FA Cup is Monday evening.
Chelsea face Spurs at Wembley in the semi-final first leg of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday.
Teams: Chelsea, Caballero, Fabregas, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Zappacosta, Christensen, Morata, Luiz, Emerson, Ampadu
Subs: Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Jorginho, kante, Hazard, Moses, Azpilicueta
Forest, Steele, Fox, Guedioura, Colback, Murphy, Carvalho, Osborn, Cash, Janis, Yacob, Darikwa
Subs: Smith, Robinson, Yates, Lolley, Dias, Appiah, Ahmedhodzic
Referee: Andrew Madley