Chelsea reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the third successive season as a rare goal from Romelu Lukaku inspired a 2-0 win against Championship side Middlesbrough on Saturday.
In what could have been a potential upset, Thomas Tuchel’s team were never troubled as they made it six successive victories since Roman Abramovich put the European champions up for sale.
Unsettled Belgian striker Lukaku opened the scoring with just his second goal in seven games.
Hakim Ziyech increased Chelsea’s advantage before the interval at the Riverside Stadium.
The Blues killed off the quarter-final with minimal fuss after that, ensuring a last four appearance at Wembley in April as they look to reach the final for a third consecutive year.
Chelsea are operating under a special licence allowing them to fulfil fixtures after the UK government sanctions on Abramovich in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A host of bidders submitted their offers to buy Chelsea from Abramovich before Friday’s deadline, offering hope that their current predicament will soon be over.
Tuchel admits he is out of the loop with regards to the sale, but the German has impressively kept Chelsea’s players focused amid the off-field turmoil.
Chelsea have won 12 of their past 13 matches, with the exception the League final penalty shoot-out loss against Liverpool.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing and following a scathing response from Middlesbrough and even their own supporters, Chelsea had withdrawn their request for the quarter-final to be played behind closed doors after they were denied the chance to sell their full allocation of tickets due to the sanctions.
Tuchel feared his squad would have to make a 10-hour bus journey to the match because of limits on the amount they can spend on away travel before the transition to a new owner.
But they were eventually allowed to fly to Teesside, where they comfortably avoided any FA Cup turbulence.
Middlesbrough had shocked Manchester United and Tottenham in the previous two rounds, but it quickly became clear there would not be a third scalp.
Tuchel made five changes from the midweek Champions League last 16 win at Lille, but still fielded a strong side, including the much-maligned Lukaku, who narrowly failed to connect with Mason Mount’s low cross in the opening moments.
If that miss was emblematic of Lukaku’s struggles this season, in the 15th minute he gave a glimpse of the predatory instincts that persuaded the Blues to pay a club record £97 million to sign him from Inter Milan last year.
Harried deep inside their own half by Middlesbrough, Thiago Silva and Ziyech combined to neutralise the hosts’ pressure in a flurry of passes.
Ziyech guided a superb long pass towards Mount’s lung-bursting surge down the right and the England forward whipped over a precise cross that Lukaku met with a clinical finish from six yards.
It was Lukaku’s 12th club goal this season and his 16th in the FA Cup since his tournament debut in 2012.
Yet there little sign of a celebration or even a smile from Lukaku, reflecting the difficulties of a campaign that saw him forced to apologise after he hinted he was keen to return to Inter already.
For all Middlesbrough’s huffing and puffing, they rarely threatened to rattle Chelsea and the Blues’ extra quality was on show again as they doubled their lead in the 31st minute.
A smooth burst of passing from Mount and Mateo Kovacic left Middlesbrough chasing shadows and Ziyech cut in from the right flank to drill a swerving strike into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Middlesbrough keeper Joe Lumley might feel he should have done better, but Ziyech wasn’t concerned about that as he celebrated a goal on his 29th birthday.