Cole Palmer a snip at £40m as Chelsea clinch Wembley showpiece – but Villa will be tougher nut to crack than Boro


Chelsea are at Wembley in the EFL Cup final on February 25 after their 6-1 drubbing of Middlesbrough on Tuesday but they have a lot of work to do before then – starting with an FA Cup fourth round outing tonight against Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.

The clinical nature of their finishing in midweek is in stark contrast to a host of Premier League games this season.

They had six shots on goal against Boro and got six goals, albeit one was an own goal. That is a remarkable statistic.

But the opposition were the architects of their own downfall. Playing out from the back is all good and well, but if you give the ball away just around your own penalty area, don’t be surprised if you lose a goal.

Villa, fourth in the Premier League, won’t be so accommodating.

Two of those goals came from attacking midfielder Cole Palmer – a steal at £40million from Manchester City.

Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino was full of praise for the 21-year-old.

He said: “He is a player who has the quality and talent to read the game. He is very versatile and dynamic.

“We try to give him the freedom to move, and find the best position for the team.

“He’s still young, but he has been fantastic for us.”

Pochettino said of the game: “We were disappointed in the first leg [Chelsea lost 1-0]. Today, we were really good and that was the difference.

“It’s really important to win. We are young and need to grow step by step.

“The mentality is very good. I can’t complain, we need people to trust in us.”

That trust suggests that Pochettino is fully aware that the fans have yet to buy into his philosophy of football, crafted by the need to utilise the very inexperienced group of players brought in by the new ownership for a vast amount of money.

It’s unlikely that Ben Chilwell will start tonight.

The England left-back is gaining vital minutes on the pitch as he recovers from a series of injuries that has defined his season so far.

Pochettino said: “He is one of our captains. Now we need to manage him after he was out for so long. We are happy to have this type of player back.”

The boss was a bit peeved that his charges gave away a late goal – it was symptomatic of the general performance of a team still unsure about how to manage a game to its conclusion.

The Argentine said: “I was really upset we conceded a goal. We need to be serious for the whole game. We lost a bit of focus. We need to use every single second to improve and be focused.”

With the transfer window in full swing, the deals are starting to be put together which will define the squad for the rest of the season.

It’s still on the cards that Conor Gallagher will be a subject of a £50million offer from Spurs. But the midfielder is as dogged off the pitch as he is on it, and he will resist a move until the end.

He has taken full advantage of the games given to him by Pochettino.

But the question remains how many games would he have played had Chelsea’s expensively-assembled midfield of Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia all been fit from the start of the season?

The club are still of the opinion that the cash for the academy player is vital to assist in balancing their books. They are also keen to offload Armando Broja.

The Albanian is another academy product who has benefited from injuries to Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson.

But unlike Gallagher,:Pochettino is less resistant to him moving on.

The club wants £50m for the 22-year-old, who has netted just twice in 26 appearances in a blue shirt.

Defender Alfie Gilchrist continues to gain first-team minutes – and he was joined for his senior debut for Chelsea on Tuesday by Leo Castledine, 18.

The attacking midfielder is not the most famous member of the family. His father Stewart played in the top flight for Wimbledon, while his mother Lucy Alexander is best known as a presenter for TV show Homes Under The Hammer, while his sister Kitty is an actress and just joined the cast of EastEnders.

Chelsea women travel to Brighton tomorrow hoping to stay top of the WSL with a win.

But they won’t have Canadian livewire midfielder Jessie Fleming in the ranks.

She is about to be sold for close to £300,000 to US outfit Portland Thorns.


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