For most of the 5-1 victory against Leeds United in the League Cup, the outcome was in sufficient doubt that there was a real worry that we wouldn't make it through to the semifinals. That's pretty silly considering the final score, but the Blues looked vulnerable to an upset until well into the second half, when a double whammy from Branislav Ivanovic and Victor Moses turned a 1-1 nailbiter into a relatively straightforward affair.
Marko Marin got his first Chelsea start on the right wing, and injuries and suspensions ensured that the double pivot consisted -- rather worryingly -- of Frank Lampard and Oscar. With Marin providing little in the way of protection in front of Cesar Azpilicueta and the central midfield light on ball-winners, it was always clear that the hosts could hurt us on the counterattack.
The solution was not to let them have the ball, but horrifically wet conditions and some surprisingly sloppy play meant that although Chelsea had most of possession they weren't very good at keeping it. They also failed to pose a significant threat to Jamie Ashdown's goal, sending in a few decent long-range efforts but failing to follow up in case of any spills.
Leeds were defending well and the attackers were getting frustrated. That frustration was evident when Victor Moses went down too easily after a pullback from the execrable Michael Brown, claiming what would have been one of the world's softest penalties, and eventually the lack of forward progress forced the Blues to overextend themselves.
David Luiz had been playing superbly in defence, but he was drawn for too high up the pitch and then made an awful mistake in mishitting an attempted chip over the Leeds back line. Instead, he hit it straight into the nearest white shirt, and suddenly the hosts could break at speed against Ivanovic, Azpilicueta and Oscar. Jerome Thomas dragged Azpilicueta wide and played in a cross for Luciano Becchio, and the 28-year-old slotted past Petr Cech to make it 1-0.
Much harumphing followed at the WAGNH offices.
Chelsea didn't make much of a reply, decent Lampard free kick aside. Moses netted but shortly thereafter but the move had long-since been blown dead from an offside call on Fernando Torres (an incorrect call, from my perspective, because the ball flicked off Juan Mata while Torres was on), and it was actually Leeds who looked more dangerous to close out the opening period, with Tom Lees failing to take advantage of marking that was so slack it was basically non-existent by heading into the crowd from a corner.
In other words, the first half wasn't good enough. Fortunately, the second was. The hosts gave the ball away straight from kickoff, and a flowing if slightly confused-looking Chelsea move ended up with the ball at Mata's feet with his back to goal at the top of the box. Mata spun and guided a delicate effort toward's Ashdown's right-hand post, and despite it being a relatively easy save the goalkeeper let the shot trundle under his arms and over the goalline.
The Blues were back in it and were never going to let Leeds get another chance to go ahead, although it was still going to be nervy days until they actually took the lead -- nobody wanted extra time and the spectre of penalty kicks after a grueling trip to Japan. Fortunately, the match only remained tied for 17 minutes before the breakthrough was made.
We can mostly thank Eden Hazard for that. Introduced 60 minutes in for Marin, the Belgian immediately injected some more quality into the Chelsea attack, and it was his delicious cross that led to the corner from which we scored our second. Lampard's subsequent delivery was met with a glancing header from Ivanovic, who'd made a sumptuous diagonal run to get free, and suddenly it was 2-1.
Moses dispelled any remaining doubt shortly thereafter as Chelsea played route one football. A long pass to Torres ended up flicked on to Mata, and two touches later the ball found itself fizzing in at the near post after a 25-yard howitzer from the Nigeria international -- his first non-headed goal for the team. With a two-goal lead, the Blues could finally relax and start enjoying themselves.
And that's exactly what they did. David Luiz redeemed himself for his earlier mistake by playing an 80-yard diagonal volleyed throughball that was every bit as good as those adjectives make it sound, leaving Hazard with very little to do but finish off the glorious chance to make it 4-1, and Torres got himself involved with 84 minutes gone when he tapped in a cross from very close range.
It was a masterful second-half performance and just what was required after an uncomfortable time in the opening spell. Beating Leeds away, old rivalry aside, isn't an enormous accomplishment, but with only Aston Villa, Bradford City and Swansea City remaining in the League Cup (and the latter our semifinal opposition), this thing looks eminently winnable.