Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the hero from the bench as Chelsea scored twice in the final 10 minutes to come back from a goal down and beat Cardiff City 2-1, sparing Maurizio Sarri another embarrassing defeat that would have raised fresh questions about his future.
Chelsea had not come from behind to win a Premier League game since beating Cardiff in September, and this was a timely return of the mental resilience that Sarri has often questioned this season. A top-four finish in the Premier League remains very possible, even if Chelsea are the least convincing contenders.
Sarri’s relationship with Chelsea supporters looks broken beyond repair. Winning this game should provide a stay of execution, but it’s difficult to see him recovering from the increasingly frequent chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” and “We want Sarri out.”
Manager rating out of 10
5 — Sarri picked the team least likely to please Chelsea fans with Hazard, Kante, Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek on the bench, and those he picked ahead of the crowd favourites did nothing to validate their selections. His second-half changes worked, but in large part because he got his starting XI wrong.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 — The young goalkeeper had very little to do with Chelsea monopolising possession and Cardiff content to defend deep; he was also fairly powerless to keep out Victor Camarasa‘s first-time shot early in the second half. Commanded his area reasonably well and distributed the ball sensibly.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 — His leadership credentials have been questioned like never before in recent months, but came up big in the final minutes when Chelsea looked in danger of slumping to another embarrassing defeat, nodding in Alonso’s flick from an offside position to bring his side level.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 — He was guilty at times of giving the ball away when he tried to pass forward, but for the most part he was the only man holding Chelsea’s defence together against the pace of Oumar Niasse in transition. Lucky to escape a red card when he bundled over Kenneth Zohore in the frantic finale.
DF David Luiz, 5 — Often left exposed by Alonso’s ill-fated forays forward, he rarely looked comfortable scrambling against the tricky Josh Murphy. His passing was also not as threatening as normal and with Jorginho once again being man-marked, that was a problem.
DF Marcos Alonso, 2 — One of his worst performances of a torrid season. His lack of mobility and wayward crossing repeatedly impeded Chelsea’s attempts to build in attack, while his positional errors caused problems for those around him in defence and led to Murphy’s brightest moments.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 4 — Another display that will prompt some to ask what exactly it is that he brings to Chelsea’s midfield. Largely neat and tidy on the ball without ever being incisive, he also passed up an open shot on the edge of the penalty area and fired another effort well over.
MF Jorginho, 4 — Can only work as well as the system does and, with zero movement either side or in front of him, his passing was at best uninspired and at worst simply poor. Picked up a booking for a silly foul in the first half and was sacrificed for Loftus-Cheek once Chelsea fell behind.
MF Ross Barkley, 4 — Started confidently, looking to drive forward with the ball at his feet and be progressive. Eventually fell into the same slow, sideways mire as the rest of his teammates and with Cardiff defending the lead given to them by Camarasa, the game passed him by.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, 5 — Sent one dangerous left-footed curler just over Neil Etheridge‘s crossbar but was otherwise ineffective, full of loose touches, poor passes and needless fouls that relieved pressure on Cardiff defenders. His movement off the ball was also well below par.
FW Gonzalo Higuain, 3 — Showed no sign of finding the top form that Sarri challenged him to produce on Friday. Spent most of his time outside the Cardiff penalty area where his link-up play was shaky at best, and he continues to look too slow for English football. He’s had just three goals in 11 appearances.
FW Willian, 7 — Came closer than any other Chelsea player to scoring in a dire first half, curling a free-kick just wide of Etheridge’s near post. He also panicked the Cardiff goalkeeper with a low shot from a tight angle in the second, and two inviting deliveries from the right powered his team’s comeback.
FW Eden Hazard, 6 — Made an instant impact when he came on, driving Chelsea forward and looking as if he wanted to turn the match on his own. Wasn’t the one to do so in the end, but the attention he commanded from Cardiff defenders created space for the likes of Willian.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 8 — Should have started this game if he was anywhere near fully fit, and provided the goal threat Chelsea have so sorely lacked from midfield just when Sarri needed it most, nodding in Willian’s cross for the win.
FW Olivier Giroud, 7 — Made more of an impact in 13 minutes than Higuain did in 77, even if he wasn’t the one to score Chelsea’s goals. Linked play better than the Argentine and brought a much needed presence in the penalty area.