Chelsea vs Wolverhampton : Premier League leaders Chelsea reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup with victory over Wolves in an entertaining tie at Molineux. Wolves, just five points above the Championship relegation zone, took a positive approach in the first half as George Saville lashed an early strike against the post.
Chelsea’s defence was repeatedly tested before the visitors finally upped the tempo, forcing Wolves back and allowing Pedro to dart in and head home unmarked at the back post.
Diego Costa sealed Chelsea’s place with his 16th goal of the season as he slid a low finish past Carl Ikeme.
The draw for the quarter-finals takes place on Sunday at 18:30 GMT on the BBC News Channel, BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website.
Chelsea, eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, were put under pressure by Burnley in their last outing – a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor – and although Wolves’ defence did not have the bite of the Clarets’, the hosts were quick to close down.
Blues boss Antonio Conte made seven changes to his side, breaking with the consistency that has been key to their success this season.
A lively start from Wolves rattled Chelsea in the first half, but as the Blues grew into the game the hosts left them too much space to exploit, never more so than for the opener, as Eden Hazard and Willian were afforded time to tee up the unmarked Pedro.
The second goal felt inevitable and it duly came as the hosts committed men forward, the ball breaking kindly to Costa in the area off a Wolves body and swiftly dispatched into the corner.
Wolves show change of pace
Wolves have won one of their last four FA Cup matches against Chelsea
Wolves have not reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since 2003, and had they been able to keep their intensity across 90 minutes against the Blues they may have ended that barren run.
But the final result was perhaps to be expected in a season marred by inconsistency.
Impressive wins away to Stoke and Liverpool to reach this stage of the cup have been in stark contrast to their league form.
Paul Lambert’s men are winless in the league in February – a run taking in defeats to fellow strugglers Wigan and Burton – and have now lost their last three matches in all competitions, all of which were on home soil and all without scoring a goal.
Nevertheless, this latest performance was a spirited one and much appreciated by Lambert and the Molineux crowd, who gave the players a warm ovation as they left the pitch.
‘Chelsea passed a test’ – Analysis
Ex-Wales striker John Hartson on BBC Match of the Day:
“Wolves started the game really brightly and caused a lot of problems in the first 25 minutes. Chelsea came into the game more in the second half. They have got a fantastic squad and in the end it was pretty comfortable.”
Former England winger Trevor Sinclair on MOTD:
“Antonio Conte has started something at Chelsea. There is a culture at the football club. Players on the periphery are still fit and when they play, they do a job. They may be favourites for the FA Cup too.”
Ex-Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Townsend on BBC Radio 5 live:
“It was a very good game and very competitive, the top third was the difference between the sides. Wolves had lots of half-chances but when Chelsea had theirs, they took them.
“Chelsea made lots of changes today, but their attitude was good, they have passed a test today.
“You do not question Diego Costa’s work-rate. He is running everywhere but he has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. The best striker in the Premier League at the moment.”
Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Pedro has now scored in the third, fourth and fifth rounds of this season’s FA Cup.
The Spanish forward has scored seven goals in his last 10 competitive appearances.
Diego Costa ended a four-game run without a goal (413 minutes).
Chelsea have now won 10 of their last 11 games in all competitions versus Wolves (L1), keeping eight clean sheets in the process.
Antonio Conte’s side have failed to score in just one of their last 12 away games in all competitions.
This was Chelsea’s 24th win of 2016-17 in all competitions, despite only playing 31 games overall (77% win ratio). They won just 20/53 in 2015-16 (38%).
This was Wolves’ fourth successive defeat in all competitions and they haven’t scored in any of the last three.
‘There is no easy games’
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “A very difficult game but we all knew this. It was important to suffer in the moments and then in the second half we deserved to win because we scored two goals.
“We had many chances but this is the FA Cup. The results this afternoon show there is no easy games.
“Don’t forget, I changed seven players. It is good to have a good answer from the players who are not playing a lot. We showed great commitment to fight, to win and to continue in this competition.
“I am pleased because we scored a good goal with the situation. I am pleased for Pedro, for the team and now we must continue in this way.”
Wolves manager Paul Lambert: “I could not ask for any more. The game plan was unbelievably performed and we were up against a world-class side.
“Not just class, world-class. They have won Champion Leagues, so many honours, but we gave it a good go.
“In big moments, we have to score. If George Saville’s shot goes in, we have something to hold on to. We played with intensity but needed breaks to go our way.
“Big players make things happen. They are most dangerous when we have the ball. They have so much pace on the counter attack. This was no disgrace, I thought we played great.”
Chelsea host Swansea City on Saturday, 25 February (15:00 GMT) in the Premier League while Wolves host local rivals Birmingham City on Friday, 24 February (19:45 GMT).