Chelsea continue to impress under Lampard

Ross Barkley came off the bench to send Chelsea to Wembley as manager Frank Lampard’s half-time changes transformed this FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester City.

The Foxes held sway in the first 45 minutes at the King Power Stadium, although it took a flying save from Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel to keep out Christian Pulisic’s powerful drive.

Lampard’s discontent could be heard echoing around the virtually deserted arena – and he acted by introducing Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Cesar Azpilicueta at the interval for Reece James, the subdued Billy Gilmour and Mason Mount.

It had the desired effect as Chelsea improved markedly. Barkley, who was on target in the 2-0 win against Liverpool in the last round, scoring the winner after 63 minutes when he reacted to get in just ahead of Jonny Evans and sweep Willian’s clever cross past Schmeichel.

Leicester, missing the injured James Maddison, were out of sorts after the break although they applied late pressure and defender Caglar Soyuncu was frustrated late on when his header struck Azpilicueta and flew over.

An FA Cup quarter-final behind closed doors contains little of the passion and noise that usually accompanies these occasions, with a place in the last four at stake.

It did, however, enable those few of us inside the ground to hear several loud blasts of “liven up, liven up” from Chelsea manager Lampard as he expressed his displeasure at his side’s early inability to cope with Leicester City’s bright start.

Leicester failed to make the most of possession in the first 45 minutes and Lampard was able to make those substitutions that swung the game back in Chelsea’s favour.

Talented youngster Billy Gilmour had one of those halves all young players can have, giving the ball away too much and having little impact – he will learn from this.

Barkley came on and was Chelsea’s FA Cup talisman again, scoring the winner and almost adding a second in the last minute, forcing an unorthodox save from Schmeichel.

It also demonstrated Chelsea’s squad strength as Lampard was able to introduce such experience and ability.

Lampard and Chelsea have had an impressive re-start, winning at Aston Villa and getting a crucial three points at home to Manchester City in the Premier League. Those results kept them right on course for a top-four finish and now they are in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Leicester’s City last game before the Premier League closed down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in early March was an impressive 4-0 demolition of troubled Aston Villa at the King Power.

It has been different since the re-start as they have struggled to draws at Watford and at home to Brighton before this disappointing FA Cup defeat.

Manager Brendan Rodgers will have held high hopes of cup success after falling to Villa at the semi-final stage in the Carabao Cup – and this result and performance will have increased a few anxieties around the club.

Leicester have had a superb season in the Premier League but they will be looking over their shoulders at Chelsea, who are a point behind them in fourth, as well as Wolves, who are only three points adrift – although they have played a game more.

There was no doubt Leicester missed Maddison, out with a knock, as his link-up play with Vardy was sorely missed, the striker making his trademark runs but getting very little quality service.

Leicester will remain optimistic and there is hardly any need to get carried away, but they need to re-discover the spark that made them such a potent force in the first seven months of this interrupted season.

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