Chelsea stumble into FA Cup semi-finals after chaotic win over Leicester

Blues need two late goals to finally end challenge of Championship side at Stamford Bridge

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Chelsea stumbled into the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday after a chaotic 4-2 win over second-tier Leicester City at Stamford Bridge.

The Premier League side went in at the break two goals up thanks to strikes from Marc Cucurella and the in-form Cole Palmer, while a desperately out-of-touch Raheem Sterling saw a poor penalty easily saved by goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.

But Leicester were given a lifeline six minutes into the second half when Chelsea defender Axel Disasi scored a bizarre own goal when he miss-hit a back-pass from close to 30 metres out that flew past a stranded Sanchez.

There was no luck to Leicester's leveller, though, when Stephy Mavididi cut inside on to his right foot and curled a fantastic strike into the top corner just after the hour mark. The game's turning point arrived with 17 minutes to go when Nicolas Jackson found himself through on goal but was taken down from behind by Callum Doyle to earn Chelsea a penalty while a yellow card was shown to the Foxes full-back.

But a VAR review found that the initial challenge was just outside the box and a free-kick awarded, while Doyle's card was upgraded to a red. However, Sterling then sent the resulting dead ball high and wide and the beleaguered attacker was met by a chorus of jeers by home supporters.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino then found himself the target of Chelsea fan fury when, instead of taking off Sterling, Mykhailo Mudryk was replaced by Carney Chukwuemeka, with chants of “you don't know what you're doing” reverberating around Stamford Bridge.

“Fans are entitled to show their emotion,” said the Argentine coach after the match. “For us we try to emphasise with our fans not to criticise. They want the best for our team and players. But we are in a project. We need support and to really believe. We are trying to build something.”

But with the game heading for extra-time, a moment of magic from Palmer helped Chelsea recover the lead and put them on the way to a semi-final appearance at Wembley Stadium.

Three minutes into added time, the ball was played into the England attacker by Chukwuemeka and he flicked a beautiful back-heel pass into the path of his teammate who had continued his run and the 20-year-old finished through the legs of goalkeeper Jacub Stolarczyk.

There was even time for Noni Madueke, another Chelsea substitute, to add a fourth goal when a weaving run ended with his curling finish looping into the net via a deflection. Chelsea were through but it was far from convincing.

“That is football, that is the beauty of the FA Cup. First of all we really deserved to qualify for the semi-final,” insisted Pochettino, who also gave his backing to the much-maligned Sterling.

“We need to support him, he's an amazing player. He has more than 10 years experience in the Premier League. Of course I think the contribution was good. He was a little bit unlucky with some actions where he should have scored. But we are a team and we need to be there for everyone.

“What the fans want is to win the game and that we achieved. What the fans want is to go to Wembley and that we achieved. They need to trust me to manage in the way I think is the best way for the club.

“We need to respect their opinion as much as they need to respect my decision.”

As for Leicester, it was a cruel exit after producing a storming fightback that looked highly unlikely at half-time with the Foxes looking far too open at the back against top-flight opposition who exploited the space regularly.

It was a different story from the moment Disasi scored his extraordinary own-goal with midfielder Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall at the heart of their recovery while Mavididi's strike was a beauty to put the game on a knife edge.

“We don't like to lose games, but the effort and performance was very good,” said Leicester manager Enzo Maresca, whose team are one point clear at the top of the Championship, with a game in hand.

“We scored twice but then the red card completely changed the dynamic. Overall the team was playing good. We didn't lose our identity.

“You have to defend very deep, that is something I don't like because you suffer too much. But then it is probably best to not have extra-time and injuries, because for us the main target is the Championship.”

Updated: April 08, 2024, 9:40 AM