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Chelsea ease pressure on Pochettino with classy Cup win at Villa

fa cup fourth round replay aston villa v chelsea
Chelsea's Enzo Fernandez celebrates with Malo Gusto, Noni Madueke and Moises Caicedo

Chelsea responded to a troubling week with a superb 3-1 win at Aston Villa to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup and put a smile back on the face of Mauricio Pochettino on Wednesday.

Successive heavy losses in the Premier League had left manager Pochettino under intense scrutiny ahead of the fourth-round replay, but first-half goals by Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson put Chelsea in control before Enzo Fernandez delivered a sublime free kick after halftime.

Villa, who are on the fringe of the Premier League title race and 15 points above Chelsea, were outplayed pretty much from start to finish as their Cup hopes evaporated and Moussa Diaby’s late effort was a mere consolation.

Eight-time FA Cup winners Chelsea will host Leeds United in round five in a throwback to the 1970 final.

Nottingham Forest scraped into the fifth round as they edged out second-tier Bristol City on penalties after a 1-1 draw at the City Ground. Forest will host Manchester United next.

Pochettino’s pre-match news conference on Tuesday had seen the Argentine field questions about whether or not he still had the backing of the club’s owners with his side in 11th place in the league despite a massive outlay on signings.

Bizarrely the former Tottenham Hotspur and Paris St Germain manager also came under fire from the wife of his experienced defender Thiago Silva who took to social media calling for change after a 4-2 home drubbing by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Veteran Silva was left on the bench at Villa Park but Pochettino’s young guns finally delivered the kind of sustained display that has been sadly lacking this season.

“I think so,” he said when asked whether it was the best performance since he took charge last summer.

“I’m so happy with the performance. It’s about being solid and consistent and that’s the most difficult for a young team to find the balance. Today I was so pleased, the team were ready to compete, ready to fight with energy and attitude.”

Chelsea’s league campaign has been terrible by the club’s standards but they have reached the League Cup final against Liverpool later this month and will now be confident of a quarter-final berth in the FA Cup.

Villa actually began brightly but were stopped in their tracks in the 11th minute as Jackson pulled the ball back for Chukwunonso Madueke who teed up Gallagher to sidefoot a clinical finish into the roof of the net.

With confidence surging, Chelsea doubled their lead in the 21st minute as right back Malo Gusto’s cross was headed past Emiliano Martinez to send the 7,000 visiting fans wild.

Enzo Fernandez’s impact at Chelsea has failed to justify the more than 100 million pounds ($126 million) the club splashed out to sign him.

But he showed his class with an unstoppable curling free kick that had his World Cup winning Argentina team mate Martinez clawing at thin air.

The joy amongst the buoyant Chelsea fans was unrestrained and while one victory will not take the spotlight off Pochettino, Wednesday’s performance might just prove to be a turning point.

“It was exactly the reaction we wanted and needed. It wasn’t about wanting a reaction. We needed it. Fair play to all of the boys,” Chelsea defender Ben Chilwell told ITV.

“We wanted that pressure. We thrived off it. The confidence before the game in the changing room was the best it’s been.”

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