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Chelsea joy and Newcastle misery come from unlikely sources in Carabao Cup drama

Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle (Chelsea win 4-2 on pens): Kieran Trippier was the unlikely villain as the Blues snatched a semi-final spot

Jack Rathborn
at Stamford Bridge
Wednesday 20 December 2023 07:57 GMT
Chelsea celebrate a remarkable win
Chelsea celebrate a remarkable win (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

A moment to savour and delight, finally, for Mauricio Pochettino, who will dance long into the southwest London night. His Chelsea into the Carabao Cup semi-finals and a cruel exit on penalties for a brave Newcastle United. It was so nearly more of the same for the Blues: plenty of promise but ultimately heading for a miserable conclusion to another 90 minutes in this lavish project.

Desperately searching for inspiration, it arrived in unlikely circumstances, with not only another calamitous error from Kieran Trippier, but their much-maligned £88.5m man Mykhailo Mudryk doing the damage. He prodded into the corner in stoppage time and followed it with a calmly-converted penalty in the shootout. Chelsea may just have lift-off under Pochettino on this most thrilling of nights in the Carabao Cup.

The tempo of this firecracker of a tie was set within a minute when Moises Caicedo scraped his studs down Anthony Gordon’s calf – a nasty challenge that may have seen him sent off had VAR been available.

The hosts started fast and Conor Gallagher almost broke the deadlock within a few minutes, curling delightfully with his instep after his pinpoint control on the edge of the area. His shot clattered the woodwork with Martin Dubravka well beaten.

But as so often this season, disaster is not far away for Chelsea, with Levi Colwill’s sloppy ball sparking an embarrassing move for the hosts. Callum Wilson surged towards goal on the break and his determination, despite Caicedo, Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile surrounding the England striker, paid off. First Silva and then Badiashile fumbled the ball, allowing Wilson to poke beyond Djordje Petrovic for the lead. It sparked wild celebrations from the boisterous Geordies in the Shed End, adding to the electric atmosphere.

Chelsea responded well though, with Raheem Sterling going close twice in as many minutes; first sliding the ball narrowly wide from a tight angle after darting in from the left. Then Sterling pulled away magnificently to collect Gallagher’s cutback, sending black and white bodies tumbling, before Bruno Guimaraes’s brave block repelled his goalbound finish.

After a dejected Enzo Fernandez hobbled down the tunnel, succumbing to illness, Chelsea were reinvigorated by Armando Broja joining Nicolas Jackson in a two-pronged attack, though the Senegalese drifted to the left at times. The side’s latest reinvention as Pochettino scrambles for that perfect combination.

Chelsea’s frustration was bubbling at the surface, with Colwill crunching Emil Krafth on the stroke of half-time and again fortunate there was no option to review through VAR.

Benoit Badiashile of Chelsea is challenged by Callum Wilson of Newcastle United (Getty Images)
Newcastle’s Callum Wilson celebrates with teammates after scoring (AP)

Newcastle, happy to sit back, looked to break at speed through Gordon immediately after the restart, but the Liverpudlian limped away after an explosive burst. Eddie Howe turned in disgust, confronting the latest dent to his already battered and bruised squad, with Matt Ritchie frantically readying himself to enter the game and retain their lead. Five points adrift of that precious fourth place, the unrelenting festive schedule may have Newcastle stumbling towards the ropes like a weary championship boxer.

And Chelsea smelt blood as Newcastle continued to retreat; Jackson spinning and dragging wide before later releasing Sterling, whose shot stung the fingertips of Dubravka. Newcastle had little resistance at the hour mark, but Broja’s third mistimed run since his introduction offered much-needed respite.

Pochettino hurried Christopher Nkunku back from a corner flag, the home fans rising in excitement for their £52m signing’s debut. A huge roar circulated around the ground as the Frenchman’s introduction was announced with 22 minutes remaining. Chelsea were still on top, but badly lacking the composure and sharpness in the final third to break through against such a resilient Newcastle. Tucked in behind Broja, Nkunku immediately gave the Blues a reference to their relentless attack.

And Nkunku added some urgency for the hosts, too, with Cole Palmer afforded the chance to drop deeper and move the ball with more tempo. Nkunku could almost taste a debut goal just five minutes after entering the game, sprinting clear and waiting for a one-on-one chance but Sterling’s pass was too heavy.

Nkunku couldn’t find fellow substitute Malo Gusto soon after, sending the ball straight out of play to the delight of the travelling supporters. Groans also reverberated around Stamford Bridge as hope started to fade.

With Broja, a graduate from the Cobham academy that once produced several starters per season, leading the attack, Chelsea had Palmer, Nkunku and Mudryk in support – a trio worth more than £180m. This was something like the ideal creative force Todd Boehly and his team of sporting directors envisaged.

Chelsea could barely believe their luck at an injury-time equaliser (EPA)

Long periods of neat, intricate build-up would follow, but it would require another blunder to salvage the tie, this time from a black and white shirt.

A wretched period of form for Trippier continued, just as the finish line came into sight for Newcastle. Chelsea’s hopeful cross in the 91st minute appeared to be a formality for the experienced right-back, yet a tired header offered enough doubt for Dubravka to remain rooted and Mudryk to seize the moment, curling into the corner to level the tie. An almighty release after such a troubled start to life in blue.

Penalties would follow and Trippier’s torture would not relent. Usually so polished from the spot, the England international dragged wide to offer Chelsea a path to victory.

Nkunku smashed home on debut, in what is surely the first of many times he hits the back of the net for this club. And another unlikely hero, this time Petrovic, in relief of the injured Robert Sanchez, made the vital save to clinch progress. And that’s all this is for now, at least on paper, but Pochettino will feel this is much more.

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