Chelsea were left thanking £100m midfielder Enzo Fernandez for their spot in the third round of the EFL Cup.
The Blues were taking part in the second round for the first time since 2016/17 having failed to qualify for European competitions and were drawn against League Two AFC Wimbledon. History was in Chelsea’s favour as the Blues were unbeaten in their past 25 domestic cup games against lower-league opposition.
Not since a 4-2 defeat to Bradford City in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 2014/15 had Chelsea been on the receiving end of a giant-killing. But there was a risk on Wednesday night.
Chelsea were behind inside 20 minutes when James Tilley scored from the penalty spot following a foul from goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, and were struggling to break down the fourth-tier side. Just as they looked to be going into half time behind, Chelsea were awarded a penalty of their own.
It was won and converted by Noni Madueke, who had been Chelsea’s best player in the first half, a second Blues goal for the £30m man. And in the end, Chelsea’s wallet would prove to be the difference.
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Before the game, Mauricio Pochettino stated he would be giving younger players opportunities, with “four or five young guys from the academy, 16- or 17-year-olds” getting a chance on the bench. But that would not be the case with just three teenagers in the matchday squad and only one being 17 (Ishe Samuels-Smith) — whom they signed from Everton in the summer.
Instead, on the bench were the likes of Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo, Nicolas Jackson and Malo Gusto, who joined Chelsea for a combined fee of over £250m. Jackson came on at half time and added some much-needed quality to Chelsea’s attack but the real difference maker was Fernandez.
Class in midfield when playing against Premier League sides, Fernandez was naturally a level above everyone in the Wimbledon team. And it was the £100m man who scored the winning goal for Chelsea, capitalising on an error from goalkeeper Alex Bass.
“It’s testament to our game that they had to bring two £100million players on the pitch to win the game,” Wimbledon boss Johnnie Jackson said after the game.
£100m midfielders being needed against a fourth-tier side, what a flex.
— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) August 30, 2023
Feel for Wimbledon. Howler from goalie, good finish from Enzo but guess that’s what £100m whatever gets you to beat a *checks notes* fourth tier side.
— Daniel Childs ☕️ (@SonOfChelsea) August 30, 2023
It was quite fitting that Fernandez would prove the difference on a day Chelsea reportedly moved closer to another big money move. According to reports, the Blues had agreed a deal with Manchester City to sign Cole Palmer for £40m, with the forward set for a medical on Thursday.
Should the deal go through, it would take Chelsea’s spending under Todd Boehly to a little over £980million without add-ons, so close to breaking the £1billion mark in just three windows.
EFL Cup 2023/24 third round draw
Chelsea’s reward for scraping past Wimbledon is a third-round tie against Brighton, one of five all-Premier League matchups, including Newcastle vs Manchester City.
- Ipswich vs Wolves
- Exeter vs Luton
- Aston Villa vs Everton
- Manchester United vs Crystal Palace
- Port Vale vs Sutton
- Bradford vs Middlesbrough
- Bournemouth vs Stoke
- Lincoln vs West Ham
- Brentford vs Arsenal
- Chelsea vs Brighton
- Salford vs Burnley
- Fulham vs Norwich
- Blackburn vs Cardiff
- Liverpool vs Leicester
- Newcastle vs Man City
- Mansfield vs Peterborough
The third round of the 2023/24 EFL Cup will take place on the week commencing 25 September 2023.