Perhaps the crooked number next to Chelsea's name is not nearly crooked enough for yet another match where they took almost twenty shots, but outside of the usual finishing woes, this was a solid, professional, almost good performance as goals from Fernando Torres and Ramires saw José Mourinho's side ease into the fourth round of the League Cup.
That the side sometimes lacked cohesiveness and cutting edge could easily be chalked up to the ten changes made from the weekend with just Gary Cahill keeping his place at center back. Partnering him was David Luiz, while Ryan Bertrand and Cesar Azpilicueta flanked him on the left and right, respectively. The midfield pairing of Michael Essien and Marco van Ginkel combined experience and youth, with the former also getting his first ever nod as Chelsea captain. Fernando Torres spearheaded the attack. Behind him, the second-choice attacking line of Kevin De Bruyne, Juan Mata, and Willian were all looking to impress. Also, Mark Schwarzer made his debut in goal, the first time he got to pull on the Chelsea shirt since his preseason howler vs. AS Roma.
A sluggish, even nervy in the case of Azpilicueta, opening was punctuated by a nasty looking injury to young Van Ginkel. As his leg bent in a way that was anything but natural, many of us had flashbacks to Oriol Romeu's injury last winter. Hopefully it's not too serious, but it's hard to be too optimistic after repeated slow motion, shiver-inducing replays. Thanks, Mr. TV Producer.
With the injury occuring in just the 10th minute, Mourinho opted against bringing on Lewis Baker and chose Ramires instead. It turned out to be an inspired move as within 25 minutes, Chelsea would be up two, the central axis of Ramires, Juan Mata, and Fernando Torres combining well. David Luiz had already stung Wes Foderingham's palms in the Swindon Town goal when the goalkeeper made a ... heads-up ... play to save magnificently from Torres. A typically perfect chipped ball over the top from Mata let Torres in, but his shot found the goalkeeper's head instead of the much more likely destination of back of the net.
Undeterred, Mata took matters into his own hand a couple minutes later, a wonderful pass from Ramires (!) letting the smallest man with the biggest chip on his shoulder in on the Swindon goal. Foderingham parried the shot but Torres (!) was Chicharito-on-the-spot and tucked home the rebound. Five minutes later, Torres turned provider, dropping deep and releasing Ramires who doesn't miss often when he gets to chip a goalkeeper. Two-nil to the good guys as we headed into half time and it looked like there would be plenty more.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Ramires joined Van Ginkel in the injury ranks with a half-time knock, causing yet another unforced reshuffle and likely scuppering any and all chances that Lewis Baker had to make his much-awaited debut. John Terry was Mourinho's choice as David Luiz moved into midfield to party like it's interim-time.
Swindon had the ball in the back of the Chelsea net shortly after the restart, but Dany N'Guessian was well offside and his headed effort was rightly ruled out. And while the hosts attempted to push forward and even played some decent football at times, the Chelsea goal was never really threatened. Mark Schwarzer proved more than capable of dealing with anything that they did manage to create in his vicinity. A good debut for the Aussie, who had just been left off the national team for the upcoming friendlies.
At the other end, Chelsea were guilty of some shocking misses and failures to provide the proper final ball. Willian shanked high from ten yards, before hitting his shot into a defender with the goal gaping. He also failed to provide the simplest of square passes for Torres to tap in, perhaps frustrated by Ryan Bertrand's inability to do the same to him a few minutes earlier. At some point, Kevin De Bruyne also missed an easy one following a goalmouth scramble. Demba Ba, on for the last ten minutes, joined the party by pushing his shot just wide of the far post. It was almost hilarious.
It's a running joke that Fernando Torres only performs against the minnows, but this match is certainly isn't going to help in not perpetuating that stereotype. A goal and an assist for Chelsea's number nine, but beyond that he actually looked useful for long stretches of the match and by my count only had one or two instances of those incredibly Torresian moments that we've come to know and dread. Yes, it's only Swindon Town; he still looked the most impressive of any our attacking players, and that's including Juan Mata. To his credit, Mata was trying his utmost with this utterly intimidating task of
taking the One Ring into Mordor defending. I doubt that Mourinho will consider himself proven wrong, yet it's progress in the right direction. Probably too much to hope that it will call off the whole "Chelsea career over for Mata" talk though.
Two two-nil victories in four days then for our beloved club in "crisis." The draw for the next round will be made tomorrow, while up next on Saturday is the all-important trip to White Hart Lane.