Chelsea rise to the challenge
Leeds Utd 1 Chelsea 5The weather did its best on a filthy night in Leeds but West Yorkshire could not quite manage to rain on a second London parade in the quarter-finals of the League Cup. Following Arsenal’s ignominious exit at the hands of League Two Bradford City last week, an even bigger upset was on the cards when Luciano Becchio gave Leeds United a half-time lead against the champions of Europe, but Chelsea stayed calm to win with five coolly taken second-half goals from five different players.
Both sides were at something close to full strength and if it was the introduction of Eden Hazard for the last half hour that raised the quality bar just too high for Leeds, there was no doubt which goal took the individual honours.
Rafael Benitez has had his critics for showing faith in Victor Moses, but the former Wigan forward’s elegant strike was not only the game’s decisive goal, it was also the sign of a player brimming with confidence.
Moses had brought the first save of the game from Jamie Ashdown after El Hadji Diouf went down theatrically in his own half but failed to win any sympathy from the referee Andre Marriner, before Republic of Ireland international Paul Green and Michael Brown injected some niggle into the proceedings by taking it in turns to foul David Luiz.
The two managers had set the right example by shaking hands before kick-off, despite their long-standing enmity, but Frank Lampard, surprisingly, was the first player to let the Leeds provocation get to him, the Chelsea captain booked after only 14 minutes for a needlessly crude challenge from behind on Diouf.
Moses saw another shot saved midway through the first-half, after Ryan Bertrand had shown impressive control to bring down a raking cross-field ball from Branislav Ivanovic, then exquisite footwork from Juan Mata came to nothing when Pearce stuck out his head to block his goal-bound attempt.
Although Green brought a save from Petr Cech with a fairly tame header that Bertrand’s block slowed down considerably, Chelsea produced most of the attacking ideas in the first half.
Their only worry for the Premier League side, as the interval approached, was that little clear-cut was being created and Fernando Torres was making no impact whatsoever.
That became much more of a problem eight minutes from the interval, when Chelsea allowed Leeds to take the lead with a classic goal on the break. David Luiz was caught in possession and out of position on halfway, Jerome Thomas galloped into yards of empty space on the left, and with the visitors undermanned in the middle, his excellent cross was tucked away with relish by Becchio.
That brought an already feisty crowd to life, and in addition to the familiar insults from his Liverpool days the home fans began to taunt Rafael Benitez with chants that he would be getting sacked in the morning.
While the Leeds supporters enjoyed watching replays of the opening goal on the Elland Road big screen during half-time, Chelsea rather spoiled their hosts fun by equalising barely a minute after the restart.
Mata played a simple one-two with Moses and perhaps surprised Ashdown by squeezing out an accurate shot on the turn, yet even so the goalkeeper should have done better than allow a shot of only medium pace to squirm underneath him and into the net.
Lampard sensibly kept testing Ashdown after that, even from distance, because there was always a chance the goalkeeper would misjudge a bounce or make a handling mistake in the slippery conditions.
In the event Chelsea took the lead in more prosaic fashion, from a routine corner, Ivanovic meeting Lampard’s cross decisively at the near post, though there was nothing prosaic or routine about the Moses goal that made the game safe just over a minute later.
With Leeds tiring and Hazard proving more effective at drawing defenders than Marko Marin, Moses skipped into space on the left from Mata’s first-time pass, cut inside Sam Byram and beat Ashdown handsomely with a drive from the edge of the area.
That made the result certain, Hazard’s well-taken goal 10 minutes from the end was merely decoration, and Leeds fans were leaving in droves by the time Torres stabbed in a fifth from close range from Hazard’s cross after Ashdown parried a shot.
Benitez said he would like to win something in what appears likely to be a short stay at Chelsea, and with the Stamford Bridge club the highest-placed one in the last four, he now has his chance.
Even Swansea City, their semi-final opponents, should hold no fears after this convincing triumph.