Thursday 12 December 2019

Hazard's red shame adds to Blues hell

Swansea 0 Chelsea 0
(Swansea win 2-0 on aggregate)

Eden Hazard is dismissed for kicking a ball boy
Eden Hazard is dismissed for kicking a ball boy

Sam Wallace league cup semi-final, second leg

They have lost semi-finals at the death, with furious recriminations against referees; they have lost to dubious goals and they have lost on penalties, but never have Chelsea tumbled out of a competition at the last four in quite such ignominious fashion as they did last night.

There was a red card for Eden Hazard, who tried to kick the ball out from under a recalcitrant ballboy with eight minutes of the game remaining and, after the deliberations of referee Chris Foy was dismissed. But perhaps the most damning aspect of Chelsea's elimination from the League Cup semi-final last night was the insipid nature with which they accepted their fate.

This was not the battling, determined Chelsea that carried all before them on the way to the Champions League final last season. Far from it. This was a Chelsea team that simply did not know where it was going or how to turn around the two-goal deficit from the first leg. Rafa Benitez's fate will not be decided one way or another on the outcome of the League Cup but he will know this was a bad night to be interim coach of this team

For Swansea City it was a historic night. Before now their best runs in a cup competition have been two FA Cup semi-finals, the most recent as long ago as 1964.

They will face League Two's Bradford City at Wembley on February 24 and must now be the stand-out favourites to win the first major trophy in the 101-year history of the club.

It was never really in doubt. There were solid performances from Ashley Williams and Chico Flores, the home side kept the ball easily and in the bleak midwinter, it was Michael Laudrup's side who looked like the old Premier League hands. You would have been hard pressed to remember that Chelsea are one of the kings of knockout domestic competitions, having won the FA Cup four years out of the last six. The expectation was that it would be Chelsea, in pursuit of that two-goal deficit, who would make the running in the first half.

They needed the goals and Benitez had picked Demba Ba ahead of Fernando Torres in the usual formation to get them.

It did not look like a Chelsea team chasing a two-goal lead in a semi-final second leg. There simply was not the urgency in the first half that you might have expected, apart from the occasions when Swansea threatened the Chelsea goal.

In the eighth minute there was an excellent block from Cesar Azpilicueta to stop a Wayne Routledge volleyed shot from Jonathan De Guzman's cross from the right. A minute later, Routledge played in Michu with a nicely judged ball into the inside-left channel and the striker hit a shot to the far post that was well saved by Petr Cech.

There was a third chance in that opening period that fell to De Guzman, to whom Michu headed the ball down in the area. Having lost out in the first challenge with Michu, Gary Cahill did well to recover and get in front of the shot. There was no doubting the most effective striker on the pitch – that was Michu, the man who signed a new four-year contract yesterday.

Ba did not get much of a sight of goal in the first half. He wrapped a foot around Ben Davies' leg in the seventh minute and crashed to the ground in the hope of convincing Foy to award a penalty. The referee was having none of it. Late in the half, Ba snatched at a shot and struck it over the bar.

Chelsea created precious little in the way of chances. There was a looping header from Cahill that Angel Rangel headed off the line fairly comfortably. Oscar had a very weak stab at a loose ball at the back post and Eden Hazard got muscled off the ball by Ashley Williams when he dallied over a shot on 31 minutes.

Benitez declined to make a change in the early stages, waiting until just over 20 minutes was left before he sent on David Luiz for Branislav Ivanovic, which did not change the attacking formation. His side had enjoyed possession but barely even anything that constituted a chance. He could see they were in grave danger of going out with a whimper.

As the second half developed, Juan Mata played in a more advanced position, as good as alongside Ba, and Chelsea switched to a more orthodox 4-4-2, or 4-2-4 when they had the ball. Even so, they were contained easily enough by Swansea, who worked them hard in midfield and were confident handling the balls that were crossed into the area.

The Hazard incident took place as Chelsea became increasingly desperate. Trying to retrieve a ball that was in touch behind the goal-line, he was frustrated by a ballboy who lay on top of the ball. Trying to get it out from underneath the boy, in his teens, he had a moment of madness and tried to kick it out.

The boy rolled over grasping his side and some of the Swansea players had to be restrained from confronting Hazard. Foy took a while over his decision but regardless of how much the ballboy may have exaggerated the pain – and in fairness, he looked genuinely upset – Hazard could have no complaints about the red card.

With 10 men on the pitch, and Torres finally on for Oscar, Chelsea had all but given up. They wanted out of town as quickly as possible. Swansea could have been forgiven a victory lap but they got in quickly. They are one game from a trophy. Chelsea are back wondering where there future lies. (© Independent News Service)

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