Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino is taking a “careful” approach with captain Reece James, who started a match for just the second time this season in the Blues’ 2-0 Carabao Cup victory over Blackburn.
James, who has been making his way back to full fitness after sustaining a hamstring issue in August, played 61 minutes of Wednesday’s tie before he was swapped for Malo Gusto.
Benoit Badiashile netted the opener in his first appearance this season, while Raheem Sterling added a second after the break to book the Blues a quarter-final clash with Newcastle.
Pochettino said: “The plan was to check at half-time how (James) was feeling, and after 15 minutes he starts to feel tired and we’re checking from the second half, and we need to be careful how we manage him.
“We decide to make the change because I think it is important now, the progression, and being careful about not going back, sometimes (you) play 90 minutes and maybe take some risks, but we need to avoid this.
“It’s true that we cannot 100 per cent avoid risk, but the plan is to go little by little.”
Badiashile, who had not appeared for Chelsea since May, broke the deadlock on the half-hour mark after Leopold Wahlstedt’s save deflected favourably into his path.
Both sides had penalty shouts go unanswered by referee Tim Robinson before the break, including a potential handball on Conor Gallagher that could have swung momentum in the visitors’ favour, but Sterling’s top-corner strike made it a comfortable second half for the hosts.
Blackburn had their chances – Harry Leonard firing just wide moments after the interval and substitute Arnor Sigurdsson coming close in stoppage time – but never looked close to a comeback in front of the 3,000 fans who had made the trip south.
Jon Dahl Tomasson was convinced his Rovers side should have been awarded a spot-kick, but was pleased by how well his youthful side responded to their top-flight opposition.
— Blackburn Rovers (@Rovers) November 1, 2023
The Danish boss, who believes cup football is “extremely important” said: “It was a great challenge, and I think our fans will be proud of this young Rovers team playing against a top team in Europe.
“The millionaires from the Premier League against the young guns from the Championship and do a challenge and an effort like this, I think the boys will learn a lot from this game.
“When you play at this level you need to make a decision quite quick, the intensity is high, the decision-making needs to be right and I thought actually we had some great attacks on the ball as well.
“I’m sure this young group will take a lot from this game.”