Insipid Chelsea nick lucky win

Left: Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrating scoring the last-gasp winner with teammate Olivier Giroud in the 2-1 win against Cardiff City yesterday. Below: Cesar Azpilicueta heading in the equaliser for Chelsea but replays showed he was c
Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek (left) celebrating scoring the last-gasp winner with teammate Olivier Giroud (right) in the 2-1 win against Cardiff City yesterday.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Chelsea substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrating scoring the last-gasp winner with teammate Olivier Giroud in the 2-1 win against Cardiff City yesterday. Below: Cesar Azpilicueta heading in the equaliser for Chelsea but replays showed he was c
Cesar Azpilicueta heading in the equaliser for Chelsea but replays showed he was clearly offside.

Azpilicueta's equaliser clearly offside as Blues fans voice their displeasure against boss Sarri

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Cardiff 1

Chelsea 2

LONDON • Football can be a cruel game at times. With less than 10 minutes remaining, Cardiff were leading 1-0 and the mood in the away end was mutinous.

"We want (Maurizio) Sarri out" reverberated loud and clear, so much so that it was tempting to wonder whether Chelsea's manager was fighting to hold on to his job.

How quickly things can change. By the time the final whistle was blown yesterday, the Chelsea fans were celebrating a 2-1 victory that kept alive their hopes of a top-four finish, leaving the Welsh side crestfallen.

The killer goal was Cesar Azpilicueta's equaliser in the 84th minute. It should never have been allowed to stand as the Chelsea captain was clearly offside as he nodded home Marcos Alonso's flick-on.

Neil Warnock was furious, which is often the case although on this occasion, it was impossible not to feel sympathy for the Cardiff manager.

A goal like Azpilicueta's will not be allowed to stand next season when the Video Assistant Referee technology is introduced in the Premier League.

That, however, is no help to Cardiff, who remain five points adrift of safety after Ruben Loftus-Cheek headed in Willian's cross to complete their misery.

ALL WRONG

The linesman must be looking at that and thinking 'he's offside', but he doesn't. What an earth can he be looking at? No one is obstructing his view. He's clearly offside.

GRAEME SOUNESS, former Liverpool manager and Sky Sports pundit, on Cesar Azpilicueta's equaliser in the 84th minute which was clearly offside.

Chelsea could not have been more fortunate - this victory and performance were about as unconvincing as it gets.

For all the Blues' possession in the first half, it had been hard to see where a goal would come from.

There was no real pattern to their play, certainly no tempo to it, and a glaring lack of creativity whenever they got deep into Cardiff territory.

Everything felt so slow and pedestrian, exasperating the travelling fans, whose patience snapped after 33 minutes when the first "F*** Sarri-ball" chant broke out in the away end followed by "Super Frank Lampard".

The team sheet had not helped the Italian's cause. His surprise decision to "rest" Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante, both of whom started on the bench, raised eyebrows before a ball was kicked.

There was also no league start for Callum Hudson-Odoi. In truth, the three of them could have been forgiven for feeling relieved to have played no part in a soporific opening 45 minutes.

The breakthrough arrived within less than a minute after the break and, in keeping with Chelsea's performance, it was Cardiff who took the lead.

Harry Arter whipped a low cross into the area and Victor Camarasa, who stood about 16 yards out, connected with a first-time volley that flew past Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Cue more anger among the Chelsea fans, who started to call for Sarri to be dismissed.

Hazard was then brought on for Pedro, followed by Loftus-Cheek for Jorginho, whose only notable contribution was a yellow card in the first half for a cynical foul.

The former's introduction at least injected a little life into Chelsea, yet they still struggled to carve out chances until the equaliser six minutes from time.

Alonso glanced the ball on and an offside Azpilicueta headed in from inside the box before Loftus-Cheek broke Cardiff hearts with the added-time winner.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Insipid Chelsea nick lucky win'. Print Edition | Subscribe