Swans 90 minutes from Wembley

Posted by Max Hicks

Swansea City are just 90 minutes away from the Capital One Cup final at Wembley. Winning the League Cup would be a perfect way for Swansea to crown Michael Laudrup's inaugural season as Swans boss. But first Laudrup's side must see out the second leg of their semi-final against Chelsea, where a two goal lead and home advantage should help.

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Swansea surprised Chelsea by exploiting defensive errors to come away from Stamford Bridge with two away goals to their credit, while a strong defensive stand kept a clean sheet at the other end. In the league cup, away goals only count in the event of a draw after extra time in the second leg. This means the Swans can't actually win this tie based purely on away goals.

If the scoreline at the Liberty is reversed - a 2-0 win to Chelsea - then the game goes to penalties. If Chelsea score more than two, then they'll have more away goals so the Swans will have to win on aggregate to progress. A single Swans goal scored at any time will scupper the chance to see a penalty shoot-out, which is a shame because it's not often a side like Swansea is in a situation where a shoot-out becomes a possibility. I'm quite intrigued to see how well they'd do.

No matter. The match itself ought to provide enough spectacle as it is. Chelsea's attacking talent and easy way with goals in this competition in particular is no secret. However, the Londoners haven't beaten the Swans since a 4-1 result early in Swansea's first Premier League season, a game in which the Swans were frankly awful. The other league matches - both played at the Liberty - ended 1-1, while we all know what happened in the first leg of this contest.

History suggests the Swans can take this game and win a place in their first ever league cup final as a reward. Despite a recent trend for heavy rotation in the Swans' squad, it seems likely that Laudrup will play his 'strongest' lineup, though most of the squad players have acquitted themselves so well when given their chance that it is hard to say what the strongest XI is any more. Jonathan de Guzman ought to figure, as the Dutch midfielder has been enjoying a spell of vigorous good form lately.

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The bigger question mark is in defence, where it seems likely that Chico Flores will return to the lineup having been sidelined with a knee injury. If that injury flares up again or even forces Flores out of the game on Wednesday night, then the Swans might be more vulnerable than they'd like, especially if Demba Ba starts for Chelsea.

Chelsea's new striker hasn't missed a beat since switching clubs, and his ten minute cameo in the first leg almost threatened to ruin the Swans' night. Ba's strength in the air will make him a difficult man for the Swans' defence to cover. Flores is the Swans' tallest defender, and therefore the best (or most obvious) man for the job, hence his importance to the lineup.

Tactically, it seems like parking the bus again - and at home - would be asking for trouble. It is one thing to take that approach on the road, but in front of their home fans the Swans must attack Chelsea a little. Swansea don't need a goal, but they must pose a regular enough threat to keep Chelsea honest and keep the pressure off. As Laudrup himself has said, 90 minutes is a long time to sit back and hope to keep a clean sheet.

The nature of the two goals Swansea scored at Stamford Bridge ought to help ease the pressure going into the game. The Chelsea defence will have to stay slightly deeper and play with greater caution given the way the Swans forwards used their pressure to force and capitalise on mistakes from Branislav Ivanovic in the first leg. This alone ought to stretch the field and stop Chelsea from overloading the Swans' third.

Laudrup's side definitely has the ability to see this game out and reach the final. It might sound strange from the perspective of big clubs like Chelsea, but Swansea have a recent winning tradition of their own; namely winning promotion after promotion to reach the Premier League. Since winning the Premier League title itself seems rather unlikely, aiming for the league cup instead ought to be an enticing enough carrot to satisfy this ambitious side's desire to succeed.

Prediction: Swans to make a date with Wembley.

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