Kurt Zouma scored a debut goal to help Chelsea book their place in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup with a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge. The Premier League leaders will still be wondering, though, how the score line was not far more emphatic after dominating their struggling Championship opponents for almost the entire 90 minutes. Chelsea could already have been several goals to the good against a Bolton side that offered precious little by the time Zouma finished from close range in the 25th minute. Even more amazing than the fact it took Chelsea so long to get on the score sheet was that six minutes later Bolton were level when Matt Mills beat Petr Cech, who was making his first appearance of the season, to make it five matches in a row for Jose Mourinho’s men without keeping a clean sheet. Sanity was only resorted 10 minutes into the second half when Oscar drilled home from distance.
Mourinho made nine changes to his lineup from the team that let a lead slip to draw 1-1 with 10-men Manchester City on Sunday. As well as a debut for 19-year-old former Saint-Etienne man Zouma at the back, fellow teenager Nathan Ake started in midfield and Loic Remy was handed a first start in attack. There was some impressive linkup play, particularly involving Oscar and Andre Schurrle, but -- as in a 1-1 draw with Schalke last week -- in the absence of Diego Costa, there was a distinct lack of a cutting edge. That the result remained in doubt until the very end will have been as frustrating to Mourinho as it was unfathomable to anyone who had watched the opening exchanges.
It was a first half in which Chelsea could have reached double figures. Bolton stood off their opponents to a remarkable extent, allowing Chelsea to cut them open at will. In the first five minutes alone, Andre Schurrle registered three attempts on goal, with Bolton goalkeeper Andy Lonergan having to tip over an in-swinging free-kick and the busy defender Mills blocking a header.
Schurrle’s attempts would eventually reach a staggering nine in a first half that saw Chelsea rack up 19 to go with their 73 percent possession. But the German’s display embodied Chelsea’s frustration at their inability to capitalize on their dominance everywhere else on the pitch. Having had a goal-bound effort blocked behind by Mills, Schurrle was unlucky to see a well-struck free-kick superbly tipped onto the crossbar by Lonergan.
Somehow it took until the 25th minute for Chelsea to break the deadlock. Gary Cahill was denied a goal against his former club when his header of a corner was blocked, but, after Remy put the ball back into the six-yard box, his partner at the back, Zouma, reacted fastest to prod home and give his new side the lead. Surely now the floodgates would open. Chelsea did have the chances to extend their lead, but Schurrle skied horribly over the bar from 12 yards, while Mohamed Salah continued to struggle to back up his obvious threat with an end product.
Then incredibly, with their first attack of any substance, Bolton pulled level. From Liam Feeney’s free-kick from deep, Mills rose well a full 15 yards out to direct a superb header into the bottom corner to mean Cech’s first real work of the season was to pick the ball out of his own net. The goal perhaps unsurprisingly took Chelsea aback and disrupted their rhythm, so much so that Jose Mourinho will have been anxious to get his players in for the interval.
The Chelsea coach succeeded in recovering some of his side’s intensity and flow to allow them to retake the lead early in the second half. Oscar had already had a header turned over the bar when he was allowed to pick up the ball 35 yards from goal and, again without being even remotely closed down, took the invitation to fire a shot that zipped low into the corner of the net.
Again Chelsea had the opportunities to make the night a more comfortable one. Remy was denied by the latest in a long line of impressive contributions from Lonergan, before the Bolton keeper got a heavy slice of fortune when spilling Schurrle’s shot onto the post and then exhaling a massive sigh of relief as the ball came back into his grasp. The hosts were so nearly again made to regret their profligacy. After Lee Chung-young fired too close to Cech, fellow substitute Jermaine Beckford was mere inches away from turning Joe Mason’s shot into the net to force a most improbable period of extra time.