Armando Broja, Thiago Silva, Raheem Sterling and Enzo Fernandez scored as Chelsea’s second-half thrashing of Preston saw them through in the FA Cup with a 4-0 victory.
The hosts were stifled by their well-organised hosts in a tense opening half at Stamford Bridge, but would have still held a half-time lead had Fernandez and Cole Palmer buried presentable chances.
But they finally found a way through 13 minutes into the second period, when Malo Gusto’s delicious cross was nodded home by Broja, who was singled out for praise by Blues boss Mauricio Pochettino.
The Albania striker returned to fitness in September after nine months out with an ACL injury, and Pochettino hinted there is more to come from the 22-year-old.
“It was really important for him,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I need to be honest, he needs to use this type of game to score and to feel the net and to improve. Improve not only in his fitness but his body language also. He needs to step up and to go forward and to move. He needs to smile more and be more positive.
“The potential is amazing. We’re talking about one of the young strikers in England and in Europe with most potential.”
Broja’s opener became the first of a gluttony of three goals in 11 minutes, with Silva adding a second from a corner before Sterling curled home a superb free-kick.
Fernandez’s late fourth was initially disallowed for a narrow offside before a lengthy VAR review eventually awarded him the goal, as Chelsea continued their unbeaten run in domestic cup competitions ahead of their midweek trip to Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup, live on Sky Sports.
How Chelsea cruised past Preston
Preston contained Chelsea well for the opening half-hour and carved an opening of their own, Milutin Osmajic darting into the box from a headed flick-on and attempting a finish across Djordje Petrovic, though it was light work for the goalkeeper to drop to his right and save. Will Keane’s scuffed shot from the edge of the box was fielded with similar ease.
Fernandez might have done better when he flung his head at Sterling’s deflected cross, in the end an easy catch for Woodman as a frustrating first half stubbornly failed to ignite.
Mauricio Pochettino named a near full-strength side, the only surprise a first senior start at right back for academy graduate Alfie Gilchrist. The 20-year-old acquitted himself well, willing to show for the ball and a composed defensive
presence, but his team-mates on the whole delivered as drab and uninspiring 45 minutes as home supporters have witnessed this season.
Much of Chelsea’s problem under Pochettino has stemmed from players being too static when in possession, rendering attacking moves easy to anticipate for opposition defenders. Here in the first half, Palmer and Fernandez showed
themselves again to be excellent passers of the ball, but with too little movement the play became predictable.
It was not a surprise then that the opening goal came from a Preston mistake. Keane was caught in possession inside his own penalty area, and the lively Mudryk hounded him off the ball. He knocked it back to Gusto, who whipped in a
superb cross met by the head of Broja, stealing in ahead of Liam Lindsay to glance it into the far corner to the home fans’ audible relief.
Broja might and perhaps ought to have made it two, meeting Mudryk’s ball in and directing a near identical header an inch over Woodman’s crossbar, as Chelsea finally asserted their superior class.
A second goal though was not long in coming. No sooner had Silva emerged from the bench to an uproarious ovation from around the ground than he headed in for 2-0, rising unchallenged to thump Palmer’s header in at the near post.
Sterling’s goal to make it three was a peach, curling a free-kick into the top corner after Palmer was felled on the edge of the box, before a ludicrously drawn out VAR check confirmed a fourth from Fernandez at the end.
‘A good way to warm up for Middlesbrough’
Analysis from Sky Sports News reporter Gail Davis at Stamford Bridge:
“That was more like it from Chelsea in the second half. Far better in every department.
“Their breakthrough came on 58 minutes Malo Gusto’s cross had a bit of extra zip and Armando Broja was exactly where he needed – his header was excellent. Broja looked full of confidence after and could have had a couple more.
“Thiago Silva on as a sub found himself unmarked to score Chelsea’s second. The third came courtesy of some Raheem Sterling magic, the fourth after some lovely build up that Enzo Fernandez turned in and after a painfully long VAR check was able to celebrate.
“It took a while for them to get going but Chelsea looked like they enjoyed themselves. A good way to warm up for Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final first leg against Middlesbrough if you can erase the first 45 minutes from memory.”
Poch: We really believe in Broja
Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino added in his post-match press conference on Broja:
“The problem now is he [Broja] needs to push himself, and we’re going to try to help him to realise that never it is enough.
“He was nearly one year away [injured] and of course now he needs time. It’s not easy for him to perform and to be at the level we expect. Our expectation is massive and we really believe in him. We’re going to push him to improve every day.
“I said to him smile. Always we joke about how he needs to smile, to laugh, to put inside himself more good energy and be more happy, a happy boy.”
Lowe: Result doesn’t reflect our performance
Preston boss Ryan Lowe speaking in his post-match press conference:
“The three goals in  minutes really hurt us. I think for large parts of that game, before the 58th minute when they scored, we were fantastic.
“It is disappointing to lose and I don’t think the result reflects the performance, but the fact is they have good quality players who can put the ball in the back of the net.
“I thought our lads were excellent. They gave it their all and that’s the biggest thing I am pleased about.”
Chelsea’s next game is on Tuesday when they travel to Middlesbrough for their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8pm. The Blues then host Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday January 13; kick-off 12.30pm.
Preston’s next outing is at home to Bristol City in the Championship on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. North End then play away to Leeds on Sunday January 21, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 12pm.