An inspired second-half performance saw Chelsea breeze past Championship side Leeds to take their rightful place in the Semi-Finals of the Capital One Cup. The victory will come as a welcome tonic to the under-pressure Blues as they try to reignite their season.
Those who expected a re-enactment of the Battles of the Seventies, when these arch rivals were on more equal footing, were to be disappointed. Certainly for parts of the first half Leeds gave a good account of themselves, but in the end the gulf between Premiership Title contenders and a mid-table Championship side was fairly represented in the scoreline. I’m sure Rafa was happy not to suffer the same indignity that Arsene Wenger did a few days ago.
Benitez, having had little more than 24hrs to adjust to a long empty-handed return journey from Tokyo, sensibly saw fit to rotate the squad. He gave Marin a rare start in the midfield and the German showed glimpses of his creative flair. Also it is not a coincidence that Chelsea no longer resemble a headless chicken. Frank Lampard may still be a little off the pace after his long lay off, but I stress again he more than makes up for this with his leadership qualities on the pitch.
The first half saw Leeds out of the gates more quickly, spurred on by the capacity Elland Road crowd and hopes of Christmas Past.
The Leeds team had a very domestic look to it. There were also some familiar faces. Michael Brown, Paddy Kenny (both Warnock stalwarts), Jerome Thomas (on loan from West Brom) and not forgetting The Sport’s Global Ambassador, El Hadji Diouf were the notables.
Leeds’s energetic efforts soon gave way to Chelsea dominance. Oscar and Moses looked particularly sharp. Although, as has been commonplace this season with this Chelsea Team , there was nothing to show for their efforts. Too much good possession still breaks down in the last third at the feet of Fernando Torres. He is improving his goal tally but is yet to have a truly memorable game in a blue shirt. Tonight’s game, where he scored an unmissable tap-in, was another example where his shortcomings were on full display. His first touch is poor and he is a yard too slow.
Leeds, with a superb end to end move, scored on the 36th minute mark through Luciano Becchio who gave Cech no chance at the near post. The Yorkshireman held on to the lead at the break and talk of a possible upset could be heard throughout the ground.
Chelsea soon put paid to any giant-killing ambitions. Within 2 minutes of the restart they had equalized through Mata, whose right footed placement into the corner is becoming his signature. The 43 minutes that followed showed us some glimpses of what this Chelsea team is capable of, it was like watching a re-run of the Spurs game from a couple of months ago. (Yes, I agree it does seem longer). Even Rafa got in on the act with his 60th minute inspirational substitution, Hazard for Marin. Breathtaking football and clinical finishing. The Blues notched up 4 more goals. Ivanovich with a great near post header(63), Moses(66) , Hazard(79), and Nando(83) the scorers. Both Cole and Ferrero got some late airtime meaning that most the squad were able to stretch their legs following their recent travels.
Hopefully this game proves to be a turning point for the Blues. Swansea will be the opposition in a two-legged Semi Final to be played in a few weeks. Next up Aston Villa at the Bridge on Sunday. Having just whooped Liverpool at home the “Villains” will be no pushover. However nothing but a victory will do as we need to hang on to Manchester United’s Red coat-tails through the Christmas period.