Chelsea progressed to the Semi-final of this year´s Carabao Cup yesterday with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge.
Willian gave Chelsea the lead early in the first half with a beautiful team goal but the Blues couldn’t add to their advantage before the break. The visitors came out with much more intensity and precision in the second half and deservedly equalised in second half stoppage time after dominating virtually the whole half.
Whilst celebrations continued in one half of The Shed, off the bench Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata were once again combining to devastating effect as Conte’s men regained the lead just 14 seconds later, ensuring the Blues progressed without the nuisance of an extra half an hour.
As ever in the League Cup, Conte rang the changes, making eight on this occasion to give younger prospects a chance to impress. One youngster who did exactly that was 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu who had a near flawless performance playing in the middle of our back three.
No player on the pitch had a more eventful first 90 seconds than the Welshman. At first, he appeared to be settling in nicely with some simple passes across the back line with Cahill and Rudiger. However, with barely over a minute on the clock, Ampadu stepped up into midfield to deliver a heavy, late, challenge on Jermaine Defoe. The infringement probably acted as an early reminder to Chelsea fans that this young man has only recently turned 17.
The only slight surprise at seeing a yellow card from John Moss came because it was so early in the game, however in considering the challenge itself, a yellow was certainly fair. The foul would go on to end Defoe´s involvement in the game early as he made way later in the half. However, thankfully for Chelsea fans, it didn´t leave any such negative legacy on the rest of Ampadu’s performance as he went from strength to strength after that incident.
The maturity he showed to not let his bad start affect him was commendable, as he continued to put his body on the line for the team and make strong challenges in defence. His reliance and professionalism will have delighted Conte I’m sure, who’s been looking to include the teenager as often as possible in an attempt to bolster his defensive options further.
Strength and Positioning
What impressed me most about Ampadu’s performance last night was his strength. At 5ft 9, he protects the ball brilliantly with the lower half of his body with such power and tenacity, much like the way Eden Hazard does in attack.
What he lacks in height he more than makes up for with a great turn of pace, and an astute reading of the game that should belong to a player well beyond his years. His height is obviously a concern and in matches up against taller strikers than Jermaine Defoe he may struggle. However, that being said, the way we set up our defence from set pieces prioritised Cahill and Rudiger perfectly to be in the right areas to head clear.
One of the main advantages of playing with a back three is in fact the flexibility of giving different players different roles within the defensive unit and I felt Conte judged that just about perfectly last night. Ampadu’s positioning was mightily impressive in this game. Throughout the second half when Bournemouth were attacking relentlessly, it can be easy for central defenders, especially inexperienced ones, to lose their bearing slightly when moving from one defensive phase to another at speed. Before our resistance was finally breached in stoppage time, Ampadu worked tirelessly to get himself back in position and frustrate Bournemouth with no less than seven clearances, two interceptions, and two blocks.
Throughout the course of the second half, with each attack coming and going, it was becoming increasingly evident and almost laughable that it was always the 17-year-old on the scene to stop the visitors in their tracks.
He showed he knew exactly where he needed to be in this defensive shape, and proved he has the commitment and quality to put himself in the way of the ball time and time again to great effect.
One thing that’s always worth commenting on when it comes to young players is their temperament and composure both on the ball, and in terms of their game management.
Having picked up such an early booking, any football team worthy of their name would try to disrupt and antagonise such a young player in an attempt to get him sent off at some stage. Within the rules of the game, Bournemouth tried exactly that with subtle moments of physicality and probably some verbal confrontations with the Welshman. What was so brilliant to see therefore was how Ampadu dealt with them with such maturity.
He continued to make strong challenges and got legally stuck into the Bournemouth attackers when he needed to, all whilst making sure he never crossed the line and gave John Moss a decision to make.
That’s his temperament in term of game management, and in terms of his time on the ball he was also very assured and professional when in possession. Pointing to teammates where they should pass, demanding the ball when in space, you would have been forgiven for thinking he was twice his age if it wasn’t for the hair!
A pass accuracy of 99% from his 88 passes proves just how accurate he was, and the fact that no one on the pitch made more passes than him proves just how brilliantly influential he was. This is certainly just the start for young Ethan Ampadu, but having already made his Premier League debut and represented his country, what a brilliant start it’s been. He’s now yet another strong name that Antonio Conte can add to his growing list of assured defensive options.
Arsenal will be our next opponents in the two-legged semi-final in January. It will be interesting to see if the manager continues to use this competition for rotation purposes now that Wembley and potential silverware is in sight. What is for sure though is that if he does decide to call upon Ethan Ampadu in the future, then he can do so with confidence that the youngster will put in a composed, professional performance.