Hall makes Chelsea history
There was an expectation ahead of the game that Thomas Tuchel would name a clutch of burgeoning academy graduates in his starting XI. Yet there was just the one: Lewis Hall.
The young midfielder has been a hugely impressive performer for the Development Squad this term while also catching the eye in the UEFA Youth League with the Under-19s. That he has done so from left wing-back, not his natural position, is a testament to his talent.
Tuchel, however, decided to hand Hall his senior debut in the unfamiliar role of left centre-back. It was something of a gamble but one that more than paid off.
With Chesterfield posing little threat in the final third – despite no lack of effort – Hall was able to display his on-the-ball ability and he had a hand in three Chelsea goals.
It was Hall’s intelligent pass that sent Mateo Kovacic on his way in the build-up to Timo Werner’s opener; he earned a thumbs up from Tuchel in the process. The teenager then grabbed an assist for Romelu Lukaku’s swept finish, which was the Blues’ third of the contest.
Hall then attempted to get on the scoresheet himself after Chelsea worked a corner to the edge of the penalty area. Unfortunately for the youngster, his shot was saved by Scott Loach but the rebound was turned home by Andreas Christensen.
The academy graduate went on to play the full 90 minutes on his debut and in the process made a little piece of Chelsea history.
At the age of 17 years and 122 days, Hall is the youngest Blues play to have featured in an FA Cup game for the club. It may be some time until that record is beaten.
Baker’s long, long wait
Had it not been for a positive Covid test, Lewis Baker would have made his second Chelsea appearance against Brentford in the Carabao Cup prior to Christmas. Fate conspired against him on that occasion.
Yet the visit of Chesterfield felt like the moment. An opportunity to finally don the blue shirt once more. But Tuchel only named the midfielder on the substitutes’ bench.
Thankfully for Baker, he did get into the pitch. With Chelsea five goals ahead and in cruise control, he was introduced in place of Christensen. It was the academy graduate’s second appearance for the Blues and, rather astonishingly, it came more than eight years after his debut.
Chelsea have played 448 games in that time. Baker has, meanwhile, spent time on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons, Vitesse, Middlesbrough, Leeds United, Reading, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Trabzonspor.
Baker is out of contract in the summer, and while he is unlikely to ever live up to Jose Mourinho’s billing as a future England international, he will at least depart in the knowledge he managed more than a single appearance for the champions of Europe.
There was no Cesar Azpilicueta in the Chelsea squad this afternoon. Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante, meanwhile, were also absent due to Covid. And Jorginho was only among the substitutes.
So that meant the captain’s armband was handed to the most experienced outfield player on the pitch: Kovacic.
The Croatian has been in sparkling form this term and deserved to lead the team out for the FA Cup third-round tie. He also played a key role in Chelsea’s opening goal with a driving run forward which took out most of the visitors’ backline and midfield.
With the Blues four goals ahead at the interval, however, Kovacic’s work was done. He was replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Kai Havertz also came on for Romelu Lukaku.
The captain’s armband was then handed to Andreas Christensen, who has spent almost ten years with the club having joined as a 15-year-old. But the Dane was taken off around the hour mark and so a third skipper was required.
That proved to be Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was making his 101st appearance for Chelsea, and he saw out the final half-hour of the contest with the armband.
Tuchel’s zen state
Over the past year, Chelsea supporters have become used to Tuchel’s constant energy on the touchline; rarely has a game passed in which he has simply taken a seat in the dugout.
Against Chesterfield, though, Chelsea finally saw a calmer Tuchel. There were very few occasions in the opening 45 minutes that he was up on his feet and even then his trademark barking of instructions was absent.
Of course, Tuchel didn’t need to coach his players through this game. Chelsea were four goals ahead at half time and added a fifth in the second period, for most of which the German sat in his seat in the dugout.
Don’t expect this zen Tuchel to last much more than 90 minutes, however. Come Wednesday at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, the Chelsea head coach will almost certainly be back at his fiery best as the Blues attempt to book their place in the Carabao Cup final.