Football: Lukaku strikes as Chelsea reach FA Cup semi-finals

Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech (right) celebrates scoring their second goal with Romelu Lukaku. PHOTO: REUTERS

MIDDLESBROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) - Thomas Tuchel saluted Chelsea’s focus as they reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the third successive season after Romelu Lukaku inspired a 2-0 win against Championship side Middlesbrough on Saturday (March 19).

In what could have been a potential upset, Tuchel’s team were never troubled as they made it six successive victories since Roman Abramovich put the European champions up for sale.

Unsettled Belgian striker Lukaku opened the scoring with just his second goal in seven games.

Hakim Ziyech increased Chelsea’s advantage before the interval at the Riverside Stadium.

The Blues killed off the quarter-final with minimal fuss after that, ensuring a last-four appearance at Wembley in April as they look to reach the final for a third consecutive year.

Chelsea are operating under a special licence allowing them to fulfil fixtures after the UK government sanctions on Abramovich in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A host of bidders submitted their offers to buy Chelsea from Abramovich before Friday’s deadline, offering hope that their current predicament will soon be over.

Tuchel admits he is out of the loop with regards to the sale, but the German has impressively kept Chelsea’s players focused amid the off-field turmoil.

Chelsea, third in the Premier League and through to the Champions League quarter-finals, have won 12 of their past 13 matches, with the exception the League Cup final penalty shoot-out loss against Liverpool.

“We were very focused and very serious from the beginning. We showed quality in decisive moments and scored two early goals which gave us a comfortable lead, but the effort was huge to not allow big chances,” Tuchel said.

“I’m impressed with the players’ focus. We accepted the ownership situation because we didn’t cause it. It isn’t in our hands, but it was important we showed the right spirit and took responsibility.

“This is very good. If you have the talent, it is a responsibility to show it.”

It has not all been plain sailing and following a scathing response from Middlesbrough and even their own supporters, Chelsea had withdrawn their request for the quarter-final to be played behind closed doors after they were denied the chance to sell their full allocation of tickets due to the sanctions.

Tuchel feared his squad would have to make a 10-hour bus journey to the match because of limits on the amount they can spend on away travel before the transition to a new owner.

But they were eventually allowed to fly to Teesside, where they comfortably avoided any FA Cup turbulence.

Extra quality

Middlesbrough had shocked Manchester United and Tottenham in the previous two rounds, but it quickly became clear there would not be a third scalp.

In the 15th minute, Lukaku gave a glimpse of the predatory instincts that persuaded the Blues to pay a club record £97 million to sign him from Inter Milan last year.

Harried deep inside their own half by Middlesbrough, Thiago Silva and Ziyech combined to neutralise the hosts’ pressure in a flurry of passes.

Ziyech guided a superb long pass towards Mount’s lung-bursting surge down the right and the England forward whipped over a precise cross that Lukaku met with a clinical finish from six yards.

It was Lukaku’s 12th club goal this season and his 16th in the FA Cup since his tournament debut in 2012.

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Yet there little sign of a celebration or even a smile from Lukaku, reflecting the difficulties of a campaign that saw him forced to apologise after he hinted he was keen to return to Inter already.

For all Middlesbrough’s huffing and puffing, they rarely threatened to rattle Chelsea and the Blues’ extra quality was on show again as they doubled their lead in the 31st minute.

A smooth burst of passing from Mount and Mateo Kovacic left Middlesbrough chasing shadows and Ziyech cut in from the right flank to drill a swerving strike into the far corner to mark his 29th birthday in style.

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