Chelsea 4-0 Preston: Blues cruise into the FA Cup fourth round as three-goal salvo in 11 second-half minutes downs Championship visitors… with Armando Broja, Thiago Silva, Raheem Sterling and Enzo Fernandez on target

For the best part of an hour, Preston performed in a manner that suggested Stamford Bridge could be the scene of some FA Cup magic.

Then Chelsea flexed their muscles and quickly killed off that prospect with three goals in 11 tie-ending minutes before adding a late fourth.

It was looking tricky for Chelsea as they struggled for a long while to break down Ryan Lowe’s Championship side.

They were impressive and Chelsea the opposite.

But their four-goal margin of victory in the end made it an ultimately comfortable win and ideal start to an important few days in the cup competitions which represent Chelsea’s best chance of success this season and getting into Europe next term, which the hierarchy are expecting.

Against Preston it was a place in the fourth round up for grabs. 

On Tuesday it is the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals against another second tier side in Middlesbrough and an opportunity to take a giant step towards Wembley.

Eventually and not without difficulty, it was one down for Chelsea and Pochettino.

The first goal was headed in by Armando Broja, an important deadlock-breaking goal for him as well as Chelsea.

The burden for scoring goals, and to prove to Chelsea’s owners they do not yet need to invest in a new striker, will be on his shoulders for the foreseeable future with Nicolas Jackson away at AFCON with Senegal. This was a good start.

Thiago Silva and Raheem Sterling then put the result beyond doubt before Enzo Fernandez made it 4-0 late on.

MATCH FACTS

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Petrovic 7; Gilchrist 8 (Silva 61, 6), Disasi 6, Colwill 6, Gusto 7; Caicedo 7, Fernandez 7.5 (Golding 89); Sterling 6, Palmer 7.5 (Gallagher 76), Mudryk 6.5 (Madueke 61, 6); Broja 7 (Deivid 76)

Subs not used: Bettinelli, Bergstrom, Maatsen, Williams

Scorers: Broja 58, Silva 66, Sterling 69, Fernandez 85

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino 7.5

PRESTON (3-4-2-1): Woodman 7; Storey 8, Lindsay 8, Hughes 8 (Best 73, 6); Potts 8.5, McCann 8 (Ledson 90), Whiteman 7.5 (Holmes 90), Millar 7.5; Browne 7, Keane 7 (Evans 64, 6); Osmajic 7.5 (Riis 64, 6)

Subs not used: Cornell, Cunningham, Frokjaer-Jensen, Woodburn

Booked: Whiteman, Holmes

Manager: Ryan Lowe 6

Referee: Thomas Bramall 8

This was a big occasion for academy defender Alfie Gilchrist who was handed his first start by Pochettino.

His tenacious style had quickly endeared him to Chelsea supporters in his two previous cameos off the bench.

A Cruyff turn to get out of a tight spot and set Chelsea on the attack was another moment to lift he crowd.

It was Gilchrist too whose proactive defending sparked this game into life. A cross-field Preston was intercepted by Gilchrist who was on the front foot and alert.

He traded passes with Raheem Sterling before the England winger saw his eventual shot loop up into the air for Freddie Woodman to grab.

The two sides went on to trade chances during the rest of the half with Preston more than holding their own even if Chelsea unsurprisingly dominated possession. 

Will Keane fired in an attempt that was saved by Djordje Petrovic before Sterling extended Woodman again.

Enzo Fernandez’s inch-perfect chipped pass over Preston’s defence was met by an equally exquisite first touch from Cole Palmer but not the finish as he chipped just wide.

Milutin Osmajic then burst through for Preston and forced Petrovic into another save.

Fernandez headed straight at Woodman and Armando Broja had a shot blocked before Preston had the sort of period that only encourages visiting, lower league sides in a cup tie.

Possession was being sustained in Chelsea’s half, free-kicks and 50:50 tackles one, the ball moved into dangerous areas, confidence was growing.

While they were struggling to carve out clear opportunities with Preston defending well, Chelsea also had something to think about defensively too. Gilchrist, at least, was relishing that. 

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Pochettino’s face as he stormed down the tunnel before the half-time whistle blew said it all.

He and Chelsea had work to do.

Initially there was only more frustration after the restart as Chelsea continued to toil.

But just before the hour mark relief broke out around Stamford Bridge when Broja timed his run to meet Malo Gusto’s cross to perfection and flicked it beyond Woodman with a brilliant header.

And it was almost 2-0 in a flash when Broja was inches away from repeating the trick not long after, beating Woodman to Mykhailo Mudryk’s cross but this time the striker’s header brushed the top of the bar.

A goal up, there was more zip and freedom in Chelsea’s play. 

A second goal duly followed when Palmer’s corner was met by the subbed-on Silva and Woodman could only help his near-post header into the net. 

And all of a sudden they could not stop scoring and threatening.

Raheem Sterling made it three with a brilliant free-kick before he and Broja went close to adding a fourth with chances in quick succession.

Noni Madueke, Gusto and Gallagher tried too before Fernandez did tap in another Chelsea goal, which was eventually given following a lengthy VAR check.

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