Chelsea sailed into the fourth round of the FA Cup with an emphatic 4-0 win at home to Preston North End on Saturday evening.
The Blues were made to work for their goals but they eventually found the killer touch required to get past the Lilywhites, putting on a clinic in the second half.
Preston ultimately failed to land enough significant blows and were made to pay for not making more of their scarce opportunities.
How the game unfolded
Chelsea’s first chance came when Alfie Gilchrist made a darting run into Preston’s 18-yard box and cut the ball back for Raheem Sterling, but his close-range effort was deflected and held by goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.
Sterling then forced Woodman into a tougher save when Preston failed to clear their lines and possession was won back by Enzo Fernandez, teeing up the winger to strike towards the top corner, only to be denied by a fine stop.
Moments later, Cole Palmer should have taken the lead. Fernandez’s clever ball over the top found the run of the former Manchester City starlet, but he fluffed his lines with a skewed lob over Woodman that bounced wide.
Preston’s first opportunity came when Brad Potts won a head over the top of Fernandez and Levi Colwill was caught cold by the run of Milutin Osmajic, but he barely tested Djordje Petrovic with his strike.
Fernandez did win a header from six yards out at the other end when a cross from Sterling was deflected upwards, though it did not trouble Woodman between the sticks.
With 58 minutes on the clock, Chelsea took the lead. Mykhailo Mudryk did well to win the ball back high up the pitch, allowing Malo Gusto to dig out a cross to be glanced in by Armando Broja.
Soon after, Chelsea nearly had a second. Fine work again by Mudryk on the left flank created a yard of space to cross for Broja, whose header this time flew just over.
It didn’t take too long for the Blues to score again, however, with Thiago Silva coming off the bench to nod in a corner from Palmer.
The tie was put beyond all doubt by the 69th minute. Sterling got in on the act with his second free-kick goal of the season, firing into the top corner from 20 yards.
Broja was unlucky not to have secured a brace when he had a shot cleared off the line by Andrew Hughes after rounding Woodman.
Chelsea had the ball in the net for a fourth time through Fernandez after tapping in at the back post following a scramble, but the assistant referee had his flag raised for offside. However, after an extremely lengthy VAR check, he was adjudged onside and the goal was given.
A fifth went begging for Chelsea in added time when Woodman stood tall to keep out Noni Madueke and the Blues had to settle for just the four goals.
GK: Djordje Petrovic – 6/10 – Had very little to do on a quiet west London evening.
RB: Alfie Gilchrist – 7/10 – Enjoyed his duels up against Preston’s tricky left-hand side. Given a warm ovation on his first start for the senior team.
CB: Axel Disasi – 5/10 – Didn’t look comfortable from the off and often found himself struggling to communicate with his teammates.
CB: Levi Colwill – 5/10 – Similarly shaky but not to the point where either of Chelsea’s starting centre-backs were disastrous.
LB: Malo Gusto – 8/10 – A constant threat whether going down the line or coming inside, starting on the left or shifting to the right.
CM: Moises Caicedo – 6/10 – Played as a basic ball-winning midfielder. Didn’t contribute too much to on-ball acts.
CM: Enzo Fernandez – 8/10 – Chelsea’s most reliable creative spark when trying to get through and around Preston’s deep block. Got his reward with a goal late on.
RM: Raheem Sterling – 8/10 – Rolled back the years with a change of pace that had Preston at sixes and sevens. Another fine free-kick for his collection.
AM: Cole Palmer – 7/10 – Should have scored the opener in the first half but made amends with an assist for Silva in the second.
LM: Mykhailo Mudryk – 7/10 – The key reason as to why Chelsea were able to break down Preston after half-time. It’s just a shame he was withdrawn while at full tilt.
CF: Armando Broja – 8/10 – The performance he needed to stake a claim in the starting XI with Nicolas Jackson at AFCON. Struggled to impose himself in the first half but eventually wore Preston down and his physicality ultimately turned the tie on its head.
SUB: Thiago Silva (61′ for Gilchrist) – 8/10
SUB: Noni Madueke (61′ for Mudryk) – 6/10
SUB: Deivid Washington (76′ for Broja) – 6/10
SUB: Conor Gallagher (76′ for Palmer) – 6/10
SUB: Michael Golding (89′ for Fernandez) – N/A
Subs not used: Marcus Bettinelli (GK), Lucas Bergstrom (GK), Ian Maatsen, Dylan Williams
Mauricio Pochettino – 8/10 – Chelsea were approaching a stage of nervousness having gone nearly an hour without a goal, but eventually their fitness, physicality and technical superiority shone through.