Follow the Ball – Game 6: MK Dons v Chelsea

The final day of January brings with it the sixth match of the year for the Follow the Ball series; and in it we will see the first “defence” for the new winners, Chelsea.

Throughout 2016 I have decided that I will enjoy an unbeaten year of football by watching a run of football matches in a winner stays on style. The year started with Arsenal by way of a Twitter poll although that run ended last weekend when Chelsea rocked up to the Emirates Stadium and won 1-0.

Game 2: Arsenal (c) 3-1 Sunderland
The Emirates FA Cup, Saturday 9th January 2016, Emirates Stadium

Game 3: Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal (c)
Barclays Premier League, Wednesday 13th January 2016, Anfield

Game 4: Stoke City 0-0 Arsenal (c)
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 17th January 2016, Britannia Stadium

Game 5: Arsenal (c) 0-1 Chelsea
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 24th January 2016, Emirates Stadium

In my master plan of how this calendar year pans out, Chelsea are going to get through the next four games before losing to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and allowing me to take in some European football. Obviously they have to take things one game at a time; starting with their FA Cup opponents Milton Keynes Dons.

Game 6: MK Dons v Chelsea
The Emirates FA Cup, Sunday 31st January 2016, Stadium mk

The Skinny: When a football commentator/pundit/fan knows they are on to something and have stumbled upon a clear and lucid point, it’s pretty common for them to repeat it mercilessly. During the weekend of the FA Cup Third Round Chris Sutton was part of BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage of Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Scunthorpe. On a number of occasions, Chris declared that the FA Cup is “Chelsea’s most realistic chance of a title this season” without prompting. Hardly rocket science given their league position and the strength of the teams left in the Champions League and not a suggestion that needed to be hammered home given the strength of Chelsea’s line-up but still, the point stands. He’s right.

If Chelsea want to come out of the season feeling even slightly pleased with themselves, victory in the FA Cup would surely help. So far, the draw has been kind. They dispatched Scunthorpe with minimal fuss in the Third Round and now get to take on a MK Dons side that have struggled in the Championship. Chelsea have to be considered the overwhelming favourites even if they are playing away from home.

As an aside, a Premier League side away to a newly-promoted Championship side with the lowest budget in the division is a near-perfect scenario to a televised game on FA Cup Fourth Round weekend.

As for MK Dons, I think I’m happy to divert you to the Football Fives podcast when we/they tackled The Question. I don’t like how the Milton Keynes Dons came into being and will probably never see them as just another football club. However I’m not sure I can begrudge any local fans who only know a world with them in it. I think I’m generally happy for this year to take me wherever and whenever, but thinking about it – I really don’t want MK Dons to win.

The Match: That was pretty routine all told. Chelsea created a really good chance inside the first three minutes – which Diego Costa was unlucky not to finish – and the home side didn’t learn their lesson. They allowed the visiting players time on the ball, space to operate in and were the most accommodating of hosts as the Premier League champions romped to a convincing win.

Oscar scored a lovely hat-trick. The two finishes he produced for his second and third goals were excellent. The Brazilian could have scored two more in the first half if he’d been more ruthless although there were a couple of others that wasted chances. Costa will be disappointed he didn’t make it seven goals in seven games under the new manager.

Oscar’s goals ended the match as a contest and throughout the game, the home side struggled to deal with the trio of players that were operating behind the main forward.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been heralded for the last 12-18 months as an exciting talent in Chelsea’s youth ranks. He was handed a chance to play in a more advanced role and the signs were good. If he can dropped in and out of the side for the rest of season it’ll be good for his development, although there is no need to get carried away just yet as the match wasn’t much of a contest.

That said it was the perfect game to give Loftus-Cheek game time as well as Baba Rahman and Bertrand Traoré when he came on. They all had the chance to play first team minutes in what was largely a regular team so their ability to slot into the usual system could be gauged.

Eden Hazard also scored which should help to kick-start his season after eight months. The Belgian hasn’t been the highlight reel that he was during 2014/15 but should gain some confidence from the penalty that he dispatched with ease. Is it only penalties that can be dispatched with ease?

The Result: MK Dons 1-5 Chelsea

It never felt like Chelsea were in trouble even though the teams were level at 1-1 for a period. Karl Robinson’s side will do well to stay in the Championship for next season and they weren’t able to lift themselves for the visit of Chelsea and a record crowd at the stadium mk.

Job done; let’s move on.

What’s next? Watford vs Chelsea in the Premier League

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