POACHER: Michu, right, grabs the first goal
SERBIAN INTERNATIONAL Branislav Ivanovic chose two bad moments to fluff his lines during the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final against Swansea. The Welsh visitors needed no second invitations, flashing a ruthless streak, and gobbled up the duo of errors from the centre half.
It was Chelsea's second home loss in a row after losing 1-0 to QPR in the league on January 2.
Regarded in some quarters as Chelsea’s best and most reliable centre back, Ivanovic lost his composure at the end of both halves. In the 37th minute he miscontrolled a short ball out from Ross Turnbull, allowing Jonathan de Guzman to steal it, touching the ball onto Michu, who displayed a killer instinct and curled it beyond Chelsea’s stand-in keeper.
The Serbian captain uncharacteristically wilted again in the 92nd minute; the 28-year-old played in a weak back pass that was gratefully accepted by substitute Danny Graham, who had earlier replaced Michu. The 27-year-old gleefully rounded Turnbull and put his side in firm control of the second leg to be played in two weeks time at the Liberty Stadium.
Late sub, Demba Ba, making his home debut, thought he had instantly replied in the 94th minute, lashing the ball past Gerhard Tremmel, but the linesman harshly ruled it offside, when replays suggested otherwise.
Manager Rafa Benitez could only look on in horror along with the rest of the home crowd. Michael Laudrup punched the air in delight as his team smashed and grabbed in nonchalant style.
Chelsea had the lion’s share of possession, yet time and time again their build-up play came to nothing with more final balls going astray as the game progressed.
The home side should have been ahead before Ivanovic’s first mistake. Their attacking trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard had begun well, imposing their intricate touch and go dribbles upon the Swans. Ramires had the first opportunity to register, when in the 11th minute he was delightfully teed up inside the box. He feigned the ball past two defenders, but could only poke the ball down the keeper’s throat.
Mata, who had a disappointing night in regard to his normal high standards, had the next chance. Hazard had burst through the heart of away team’s defence and cleverly laid it sideways to his Spanish team-mate, who had the whole goal to aim at – much to the Chelsea fans’ aghast, Mata struck such a feeble effort that it looked more like a back pass.
After the shock of Michu’s opportunistic goal, the second 45 started in a similar pattern, with Chelsea dominating possession, but were not putting Tremmel’s goal under siege. David Luiz, again picked to start in a central midfield berth, had free kick opportunities to test the keeper, however the Brazilian was woefully off target with his dead-ball attempts.
The local support was becoming increasingly impatient as the game wore on; chants for the introduction of Frank Lampard and Ba resounded throughout the stands.
Michu was clearly brimming with confidence – near the hour mark the ball was crossed into him and the prolific striker tried his luck with an audacious bicycle kick. On this occasion the ball ended up closer to row Z than the goal.
When Benitez finally decided to introduce Ba in the 80th minute, the Senegalese offered a useful target, something that the departed Torres was not able to do. Captain Ashley Cole and Spanish right back Cesar Azpilicueta floated in balls that the big forward nodded goal bound. And a Marko Marin cross was glanced agonisingly wide. Home fans were left to wonder what would have happened if Ba had been brought on earlier.
Just before Swansea’s second, Ba had latched onto a loose ball in the area and won his race with the keeper, knocking it past him and tumbling into the hapless Tremmel. Roars for a penalty assaulted referee Anthony Taylor’s ear’s but the official controversially decided to book Ba for simulation.
It clearly was not going Chelsea’s way, and the excellent pairing of Ashley Williams and Chico Flores at the back for Swansea ensured Benitez’s men went to bed with nothing to show for all their possession.
After the match, Laudrup was content with side. “We have already achieved some historic results this season, but to beat the European Champions was special.
“We knew we had to have a very good game without the ball. My players are not used to playing these sorts of games, this is only the first half of two games,” he said.
“They had a lot of possession, but only had three big chances in 90 minutes. The attacking potential in Chelsea is tremendous, but I think it shows we can play defensively, not our normal game without the ball,” added the Dane.
Despite a two goal cushion going into the second leg, Laudrup emphasised there was “still a mountain to climb” in order to reach the Wembley final on February 24.
Commenting on Michu, Laudrup said: “He is the bargain of the season, we all know that and we’re happy.
“Today he’s had one chance, one goal; that’s a top-class centre forward.”
Benitez was in a defiant mood during his post-match conference. “We were doing a lot of good things,” he said, but conceded: “we made two mistakes and were made to pay for them.”
The interim boss refused to criticise Ivanovic, saying: “I can see any player make mistakes, but what counts is what they try to do afterwards, and Ivanovic tried his best.”
The Spaniard disagreed with the disallowed goal from Ba – “for me it was a goal.” He also took issue with Ba’s yellow card for diving.
Nevertheless, Benetiz, despite his confidence, must know he has his work cut out to turn around this tie. Meanwhile, owner Roman Abramovich is most likely looking restlessly in the direction of one Pep Guardiola, who has stated his intention to return to management next season.
Man of the match: Ashley Williams