Thursday, January 24, 2013
Swansea give Chelsea the blues
One of the most remarkable Capital One Cup campaigns, then, will end with what is arguably the most appropriate finale. A season of 7-5s and 5-4s will end with two teams who will properly relish this showpiece.
Bradford City have the opportunity to become the first European side from a fourth tier to win any major cup. Swansea have the chance to claim the first silverware of their hundred-year history.
After his team's elimination of Chelsea, Michael Laudrup described the final as a contest between a "small fairytale" and a "big fairytale".
Just like with Bradford on Tuesday night against Aston Villa, though, you do not need to look to magic or anything like it to explain this result. Swansea completely nullified Chelsea. On the night, they got their tactics absolutely perfect.
But that's also because, over the last decade, they've got their approach absolutely perfect. In fact, not unlike West Brom, Swansea are a model for every club outside the elite. And, on the night, they were an example for Chelsea on how to hold a lead.
Indeed, it is almost fitting that their centenary year may now see that first ever major trophy. Because, since Roberto Martinez and the Swansea hierarchy first changed the structure of the club, every step they have taken has been steady but progressive. We've seen both intelligent design and gradual evolution.
With such a proper foundation, almost every manager since has been selected to fit the surroundings, almost every one has taken the club on further. The admirable Laudrup is the perfect example.
When Brendan Rodgers departed for Liverpool in the summer, it was feared that Swansea might lose some of the intelligence that lifted a notionally small club so high. But, illustrating that the type of scouting which brought players like Michu and Angel Rangel to the Liberty goes even deeper, they signed a coach who may even be a step up from the current Anfield boss.
Because, whereas Rodgers's impressive and incisive side could seem a little too wedded to one philosophy that occasionally left them open, Laudrup has kept that while also introducing a few other approaches.
We saw one executed perfectly on Wednesday. When, for example, did we Rodgers's Swansea defend so deep and get many bodies back while still being capable of breaking so quickly? At times, they had less than 40% possession but still seemed as comfortable as the days last season when they were spraying the ball around.
For all the furore about Eden Hazard's incident with the ball boy, in fact, it illustrated the huge frustration Chelsea were feeling. Although the 17-year-old may have felt he should waste time, Swansea didn't need to.
It took 72 minutes for the away side to even bring a bit of anxiety from the crowd, and that from a speculative Juan Mata long shot. Rafa Benitez's side were atrociously rigid and it is telling that we saw none of the riotous forward movement that so exposed Arsenal on Sunday to it.
Worse, the Spaniard didn't seem to have any solution. Despite not starting with his true attacking trio, we only saw two defensive switches and then a belated introduction for the beleaguered Fernando Torres, with David Luiz also proving incapable of driving forward and opening the opposition defence in the manner he did Leeds United earlier in this competition.
In that, as excellent as Swansea were, there is a danger that - after a decade of relentless trophy winning - this new Chelsea generation are becoming a bit of a nearly team.
Benitez has now squandered two good opportunities to swiftly pick up a trophy, with a side that are adjusting to a new identity therefore being denied the kind of adhesive and fortitude that silverware brings.
Instead, Swansea now have the opportunity to do that.
And, although a victory for Bradford might be the perfect fairytale come the final, a win for Swansea would illustrate the true effects of proper long-term planning.