Report from FA Cup quarter-final at Riverside as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0; first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech secured Blues' place in the last four; Chelsea have now reached the semi-finals in five of the last six seasons, with draw taking place on Sunday at 5.30pm
Sunday 20 March 2022 07:29, UK
Chelsea produced a professional performance at the Riverside Stadium to secure a 2-0 win and end Middlesbrough's impressive FA Cup run at the quarter-final stage.
Championship side Boro had been one of the stories of the competition this season, having already eliminated Manchester United and Tottenham on their way to the last eight, and more than 30,000 home fans were hoping to see the world and European champions added to that list.
But Chelsea had other ideas and came flying out of the blocks, despite having less than 700 of their own supporters at the game after the club were prevented from selling any more tickets as part of the sanctions placed on owner Roman Abramovich.
But the Blues fans who were able to take their place in the away end would have been delighted with the way their side approached their task, with Mason Mount giving them a taste of what was to come when his whipped cross after a clever run down the right was just missed by both Romelu Lukaku and Christian Pulisic.
The Chelsea academy product was again released down the right after 15 minutes after some composed defending by Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva, and this time his ball in was turned home by Lukaku.
Boro responded well to the early blow and created an opening when Jonny Howson dispossessed Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a dangerous area, while Marcus Tavernier caused problems with his deliveries from set-pieces.
But Hakim Ziyech then celebrated his 29th birthday in ideal fashion by doubling the Blues' advantage on 31 minutes. The Moroccan was granted too much time to cut in on his favoured left foot, and while his strike from the edge of the area arrowed into the bottom corner, Boro goalkeeper Joe Lumley may feel he should have got down quicker to turn away the strike.
Chelsea should have made it three shortly after when a lucky bounce allowed Lukaku to round Lumley, but Anfernee Dijksteel produced an excellent clearance on the goal line to keep his side in the game.
Boro improved in the second half, with Isaiah Jones' forays from his right wing-back position catching the eye, but - while Thomas Tuchel's side failed to maintain their first-half intensity - they never really looked like giving up their advantage, with the imperious Thiago Silva, in particular, ensuring their hosts were kept at arm's length.
Boro ended the game without a shot on target, such was Chelsea's comfort, while the visitors even spurned a late chance to put the game beyond doubt when Timo Werner saw his short-range effort blocked by Sol Bamba with the goal gaping.
The result means Chelsea have now reached the FA Cup semi-finals in five of the last six seasons, and they will discover who they face at Wembley next month when the draw takes place on Sunday at 5.30pm, while Boro will turn their attention to securing a play-off spot as they bid to return to the Premier League.
Tuchel described himself as "impressed" with the performance of his team on Teesside, both with their ability to switch their attentions to the FA Cup just three days after their Champions League win in Lille, and to put events off the field to the back of their minds.
"It was a deserved win," the head coach told BBC Sport. "We've come through a period of lots of matches.
"Just three days after a Champions League tie you have to play a completely different competition with a totally different approach, but we were focused and got a deserved win. Full credit to the team. I'm very impressed.
"We accepted the situation as we didn't cause it. Nothing we can do can change the situation, it's not in our hands. But what is in our hands is to stay focused and set an example as I'm sure many people who work at Chelsea not in the spotlight are more concerned than us about the situation and what will happen. For them it's also important we take the responsibility to show the right spirit and attitude. This is very, very good.
"We have a responsibility too with our talent. If you are gifted and privileged to play football as a profession then you have to push yourself to the limit. This is what we do and the culture of the club helps."
A number of offers to buy Chelsea were submitted by the deadline on Friday night, and Tuchel emphasised the need for the club's ownership to be resolved as soon as possible.
"I hope the process goes through as soon as possible to clear the situation and calm the situation down so we can have an outlook on the near future.
"As far as I know things will be pushed as fast as possible so we can see ourselves in a calmer situation."
The narrative surrounding Chelsea in recent weeks has understandably focused on the club's future, with Abramovich looking to sell the club after being hit with sanctions and a number of interested parties keen to take the club off the Russian billionaire's hands.
But that has meant that events on the field have flown under the radar, and therefore it is perhaps surprising to note that Chelsea have now won 11 of their last 12 matches, with the sole defeat coming on penalties to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final.
The Blues' only other defeat since December 4 was a 1-0 loss at Premier League champions Manchester City - a period of time that spans 26 fixtures in all competitions.
As Tuchel noted after his side's latest win at Boro, the ability of his players to focus on events on the field while chaos reigns off is "impressive", as was the way in which they handled the challenge of ending their hosts' FA Cup charge.
Chelsea never looked like following in the footsteps of Man Utd and Spurs in losing to Boro, and Tuchel's strong teamsheet - bolstered by the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Silva and Mount - made it clear how seriously they were taking their task.
Restricting Boro to zero shots on target reflected Chelsea's control, while they have now extended their run of playing at least one cup fixture at Wembley to eight seasons.
The aim for Tuchel now will be to reverse his woes at the national stadium, with the German overseeing a shock 1-0 defeat to Leicester in last season's FA Cup final as well as last month's Liverpool loss.
Middlesbrough: Lumley (5), Dijksteel (7), Fry (6), McNair (6), Jones (8), Crooks (6), Howson (7), Tavernier (6), Taylor (6), Balogun (5), Connolly (5).
Subs: Samba (6), Peltier (6), Bola (6), Watmore (6), Coburn (6).
Chelsea: Mendy (6), Azpilicueta (7), Silva (9), Rudiger (6), Sarr (6), Mount (8), Loftus-Cheek (6), Kovacic (6), Ziyech (8), Lukaku (7), Pulisic (6).
Subs: Werner (6), Kante (6), Kenedy (6), Vale (6).
Man of the match: Thiago Silva
While Mount may feel hard done by having registered the assists for both Chelsea goals, the award just about goes to Silva. The 37-year-old continues to defy his years thanks to his uncanny reading of the game and continually cut out Boro attacks in the second half to help secure his team's place in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Chelsea now have a two-week break due to the upcoming international fixtures, with their next match being the home game against London rivals Brentford in the Premier League on Saturday, April 2, with kick-off at 3pm.
The Blues then face Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, April 6, with kick-off at 8pm.
Middlesbrough's next game is also on April 2, with their trip to Peterborough in the Championship kicking off at 3pm.
Chris Wilder's side then host Championship leaders Fulham on Wednesday, April 6, with kick-off at 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports.