Swansea on brink of first big final after stunning Chelsea
Chelsea 0 Swansea 2: Those marketing men at Capital One who ploughed millions into sponsoring this competition may be denied their dream final, but they might still end up with something remarkable at Wembley next month. Swansea City stand on the brink of a first major final after registering a stunning victory here, a win that left Chelsea in uproar in their wake, with the prospect of a showpiece against Bradford City suddenly very real. There is romance to be had in that.
The last time those sides met was in front of 7,347 people at Valley Parade almost six years ago, a game that was drawn 2-2. Times have changed at the Welsh club since with this victory eye-catching but still following triumphs at Anfield and the Emirates already this term.
Yet, when Danny Graham collected Branislav Ivanovic’s mystifying back-pass in stoppage time and eventually thumped the visitors’ second into a gaping net, this still felt staggering. The champions of Europe are so unpredictable at present with Swansea resilient and ruthless.
With John Terry and Petr Cech still out and Frank Lampard again starting on the bench, this was another glimpse of the “new Chelsea”. To witness the instinctive combination delivered by Juan Mata, David Luiz, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Ramires early on was to thrill at what might develop at this club in time.
Ramires ended up swerving away from two lunged Swansea challenges before poking his shot at Gerhard Tremmel for the German to claim, yet that move typified much of the hosts’ approach play. They purred at times, outpassing even a side of Swansea’s grace and invention in possession, and yet, by the break, they trailed and another missed opportunity to win silverware in a wasteful season loomed large.
Michu’s goal, six minutes from the interval, had forced the visitors ahead from virtually their first attack. Branislav Ivanovic dawdled as he collected Ross Turnbull’s roll out, with Jonathan de Guzman robbing him of the ball and squaring for the Spaniard to belt in a 16th goal of a productive campaign from 20 yards.
Much of the crowd had been distracted at the time, Lampard having just sprung from the bench to warm up on the touchline to cheers of support. His status, if not his form, is hurting Chelsea at present. Rafa Benitez endured a torrent of abuse from fans and this had been just as uncomfortable for the chairman, Bruce Buck, prior to kick-off when he emerged on to the pitch to present Cech with an award to a murmuring of boos. That gave way to a chorus of support for Lampard, and demands to “sign him up”, Stamford Bridge’s disgruntled chant of the moment.
They might have been heartened had all their team’s slick movement been properly rewarded, but Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Hazard and Mata all shot wide as the Welsh club banked in defence. Ivanovic, frustrated by his own aberration, did at least force Tremmel into a save.
Certainly, with Fernando Torres peripheral on his 100th appearance for the club and Demba Ba kicking his heels on the bench, Chelsea appeared to lack the bite to prise canny opponents apart.
Tremmel’s block on another David Luiz attempt, the German relieved as the ball wedged under his body just in advance of the goalline, had Benitez cursing on the touchline, but Swansea merited their fortune. If their rare sights of goal were only ever gleaned on the break, the feverish work-rate mustered at the other end blunted the home side’s ambition.
Lampard was eventually summoned 19 minutes from time, Ba granted even less time to make an impact, but all that early conviction that had driven Chelsea’s play appeared to have drained away. The Senegalese might have equalised almost instantly, first nodding at Tremmel and then wide from Marko Marin’s cross, but was then booked for diving after tumbling over the goalkeeper’s clumsy stagger. The home players were still distracted in their complaints when Ivanovic lost his head yet again in the seconds that remained. This tie may be beyond them now.