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Chelsea vs. Middlesbrough, League Cup semifinal: Preview, team news, how to watch

Second leg comeback needed after the 1-0 deficit from the first leg

Brentford FC v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For some reason, I flashed back to ten years ago just now, and the 2012-13 League Cup semifinal.

Chelsea had thrown away the first leg against Swansea City, midtable in the Premier League at the time, gifting the visitors two goals and missing several big chances in an otherwise fairly uninspired performance: 0-2, first leg disaster.

Still, we had a winnable second leg in Wales. But instead Eden Hazard kicked (the ball under) a ballboy. And we failed to score again. The Rafalution was a scene, man.

The saddest part of it all was that in the other semifinal, Bradford City, of the fourth (4th!) tier, pulled off yet another upset (against Aston Villa, after eliminating other Premier League sides in Arsenal and Wigan Athletic in earlier rounds) in a miracle run to the finals — where Swansea then smacked them around to the tune of 5-0. That could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been us.

Anyway, at least the ballboys are safe today, since we’re at home.

Date / Time: Tuesday, January 23, 2024, 20.00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: John Brooks (no VAR, as in the first leg)
Forecast: cold breeze

On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); none (USA); none (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); ESPN+ (USA); FanCode (India); DStv Now (NGA)

Chelsea team news: As mentioned at the top, one difference from the semifinals ten years ago is that we’re home for the second leg, which is good news since we’ve won six on the bounce at the Bridge in all competitions. If we are to rebuild the proverbial Fortress Stamford Bridge, this one would be a nice solid brick to place into it.

Unfortunately, we will have to do so without Christopher Nkunku (still dealing with the hip) and Malo Gusto (overload, apparently). They join longer-term absentees Wesley Fofana, Reece James, Marc Cucurella, Robert Sánchez, Lesley Ugochukwu, and Roméo Lavia. Nicolas Jackson is away at the Africa Cup of Nations; Andrey Santos is with the Brazil U23s; and Cesare Casadei is cup-tied. Diego Moreira, like Casadei and Santos, has been recently recalled from his loan, but it’s unclear if he’s ready to play for us yet.

Since that Swansea incident, we’ve won three of the four semifinals we’ve contested in this competition (2014-15, 2018-19, 2021-22; losing to Arsenal in 2017-18).

Middlesbrough v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Middlesbrough team news: Following the first leg, Boro beat Millwall away, 3-1, but then managed only a 1-1 draw against bottom side Rotherham United at home last weekend. Marcus Forss, who was not fit for the first leg, scored in both of those games.

The starting striker in that first leg, Emmanuel Latte Lath has since gotten injured and joined the team’s lengthy list of unavailables, which already included Alex Bangura, Paddy McNair, Darragh Lenihan and Thomas Smith. Winger Isaiah Jones is another fresh (and significant) injury for them.

Since we played, Boro signed another player as well, Luke Ayling on loan from Leeds United, but like the other two new arrivals this month, Finn Azaz and Sam Greenwood, he’s cup-tied. Meanwhile, Riley McGree and Sam Silvera are away at the Asian Cup with Australia while the veteran Jonny Howson, who’s still a key player for them in midfield at age 35, is dealing with a knock and will be a game-time decision.

So, plenty of obstacles to overcome in their bid to become legendary. But that’s how legends are made. Middlesbrough haven’t been to a Cup final in 20 years, since winning this competition in 2004 — with Chelsea loanee Boudewijn Zenden scoring one and setting up another in a 2-1 win in the final against Bolton Wanderers. Zenden would later become assistant to Rafa Benítez, and would be there in Swansea to witness first-hand our ignominious exit. Time is a flat circle!

Previously: We had won our last nine against Boro before the first leg. But their last win at the Bridge was in 1975. Let’s keep it that way.

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