In a turnaround from last year's defeat to eventual champions Manchester City, Chelsea secured victory in the third round this year. Despite early resistance from Preston North End, the Blues secured a comfortable win. Armando Broja, Thiago Silva, Raheem Silva, and Enzo Fernandez all found the net, contributing to the hosts' four-goal triumph.
The match imparted three valuable lessons.
1. Chelsea struggled once again in the first half.
The host displayed a significant lack of quality in the opening 45 minutes, characterized by excessive ball retention at the back. None of the players exhibited promising performances, and a noticeable lack of communication hindered their effectiveness. Preston comfortably thwarted every attempt while efficiently launching their attacks.
The first half echoed a familiar pattern witnessed by fans during the Mauricio Pochettino era. As the minutes passed, the visitors gained confidence in their abilities despite the substantial gap in the English league pyramid between the two teams. Sterling, in particular, delivered a lackluster performance, with many promising moves ending in him losing possession. The team seemed vulnerable, and it felt as though conceding a goal would make a comeback nearly impossible.
2. Goals once again lifted the whole squad.
The Blues entered the second half unchanged despite several players delivering lackluster performances in the initial period. Thirteen minutes into the half, a significant change unfolded as Malo Gusto, the left-back, delivered a meaningful cross, expertly finished by Broja. The goal marked the Albanian striker's second of the season. Shortly after, Preston's resilience crumbled, and Chelsea netted two more within 11 minutes of the opener. The first came from Silva with a trademark header, followed by Sterling's successful free-kick. Fernandez sealed the scoring in the 88th minute with an effortless finish.
Despite the scoring opening only in the 58th minute, Chelsea were not consistently pressuring the visitors' goal until that moment. The goal, however, marked a significant turning point, prompting a shift in attitude for both teams. Gusto's cross was crucial as it altered the match. In fixtures of this nature, players should proactively take the initiative to influence the game earlier. Similar performances have previously led to Chelsea's losses, with a tendency to start playing only after conceding, often leaving insufficient time for a comeback.
3. Pochettino's decisions once again raised questions.
Conor Gallagher, the second-most played player for Chelsea behind Axel Disasi, received a rare rest from the manager. Despite his team holding a comfortable three-nil lead with less than a quarter of regular time remaining, questions arose about the decision to bring in Gallagher. The match presented a suitable opportunity to allow the Englishman with some much-needed full-match rest. Moreover, there was still ample time and a viable window to introduce him later if Chelsea required his service.
Nevertheless, it was a well-deserved start for Alfie Gilchrist. Deivid Washington's second-ever appearance for the Blues and Michael Golding receiving his debut were notable positive aspects. Pochettino had the chance to give Dylan Williams his debut as Chelsea were cruising, presenting a perfect opportunity. However, the manager seemed unwilling to alter the lineup for the sake of it.