David Luiz trollface - Clive Mason
So this is pretty much your League Cup Final right here.
I find myself not caring. This is a terrible affliction, I know, especially in light of really caring just two weeks ago. Although that's a bit of an overstatement. But I just can't do it. Not even a little bit. This League Cup semifinal excites me about as much as a dental exam. Maybe I've just been slapped upside the head by failed expectations one too many times recently. Or maybe I just don't want to risk life, limb, and well-being in this case. If you can't tell, I was trying hard not to use the word meaningless somewhere in there.
Had Chelsea not literally thrown away the first leg of this semifinal (thanks, Branislav!), it probably wouldn't be meaningless at all. In fact, it would be full of meaning (meaningless meaning?) as the de facto League Cup Final (sponsored by whichever company just paid millions to attach their name to a League Two finalist). If you missed it earlier today, Bradford City AFC completed their major upset of Aston Villa - a supposed Premier League side - becoming the first fourth tier team since 1962 (and just the second ever) to reach a major cup final. Yes, the League Cup does count as a major trophy when its competition on the Bantams' priority list is something called the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.
Bradford City would be about 78th if we counted sequentially from Manchester United. They've beaten three Premier League teams to get this far - Wigan (19th), Arsenal (6th), Villa (17th) - and will have to beat one more to qualify for Europe for the second time in their history. It's a fantastic story and a lovely narrative and we should probably all root for them for the "good of the game" or some other touchy-feely reason or whatever. Cynical? Nah, I hope they make it. But they won't. Swansea will give them a right ol' 17-0 pasting and Michael Laudrup will cackle gleefully on the sideline.
Swansea City: Since we're talking feel-good stories, Swansea City might still qualify as well. They're celebrating their centenary this season and are just a decade removed from almost getting relegated entirely from the Football League, saving themselves on the last day of the 2002/03 League Two season (although both teams relegated that day, Exeter & Shrewsbury, have since made it back in).
With their much lauded style, the Swans have become a permanent fixture of the Premier League landscape very quickly. Mid-table or no mid-table, their home record is very good - only two losses all year, neither of which were to Chelsea. In all competitions, they've lost just three in 19. Many are saying that Swansea have one foot in Wembley already but I'd posit it's more like both feet except for maybe a couple toes, a few stray hairs, and a hangnail.
No surprises are expected from the Swansea lineup, although regular starter and central defender Chico Flores is doubtful with a knee injury. Michu is still clinical, Pablo Hernandez still dangerous, Angel Rangel still eloquently named.
Chelsea: Yes, from the home leg they're down by two. The home leg. That's not a typo. It's a travesty. I guess we could always hope that this is the RAFALUTION's "Di Matteo vs. Napoli" moment* - but even then, having any such moment come in the League Cup instead of the Champions League just about says it all, doesn't it?
* and now I shall proceed to do whatever it is that's the keyboard-typing analogue of washing my mouth out with soap. Canned air & bleach for my fingertips?
Having successfully navigated around a Fernando Torres appearance on Sunday, Chelsea look set to roll with Demba Ba. I'm not going to say I have a bad feeling about this... but there's regular rage, then there's rage when Google Music matches your explicit songs with censored versions, then there's losing to QPR at home, and then there's your team's only competent forward getting hurt in a useless match. Rage for days.
Chelsea have won six in a row away from Stamford Bridge - excluding the Club World Cup - scoring 20 goals in the process and winning by an average margin of over three goals. They would need a seventh straight such monumental effort to reach the Wembley final.
Date/Time: Wednesday, January 23rd, 19:45 GMT; 2:45 P.M. EST; Jan.24, 1:15 A.M. IST
Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
TV Information: Sky Sports 1 (UK); none (USA); Ten Action (India)
Online: beIN Sport Live streaming