League Two Bradford City may have (understandably) attracted most of the attention ahead of the Capital One Cup semi-finals this week, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed that those with Swansea City connections in South Wales are just as excited about the prospect of being in the last four of a domestic cup competition as everybody in West Yorkshire.
Swansea travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Wednesday to take part in their first ever League Cup semi-final and it is the latest high point of a phenomenal few years for a club that just a decade ago was in real danger of dropping out of the Football League altogether.
It took a last day of the season victory over Hull City at the old Vetch Field in 2003 in order for the club to avoid relegation to the Conference and if you would have suggested back then that in ten years’ time Swansea would be a solid Premier League outfit and about to embark on an unprecedented cup run, you would have been taken away to the funny farm.
But that is where the Swans now find themselves after the astute work of chairman Huw Jenkins and unless you are old enough to remember the John Toshack glory years of the early 1980s, if you’re a member of the Jack Army you won’t have had it as good as you do now.
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It gives their trip to west London an edge, as Swansea will not be blasé about a cup semi-final and in truth, Chelsea will feel the same way.
Well, interim boss Rafael Benitez certainly will, anyway, as he needs at least one trophy in the cabinet to not only justify his decision to put up with the derision from Blues fans that greeted his appointment but also uphold his reputation for when some big jobs (most notably Real Madrid) come up for grabs in the summer.
Even when beating Southampton 5-1 at St Mary’s in the FA Cup on Saturday, the travelling contingent were heard singing ‘you’re just a fat Spanish waiter’ (I don’t think they were talking to Juan Mata) but the blip against Queens Park Rangers aside, Benitez has Chelsea playing very well and I think they will be taking a lead to the Liberty Stadium in two weeks’ time.
Chelsea are 21/50 to do exactly that, with the draw 333/100 and an away win a 13/2 chance but I think the Blues will use home advantage to ensure they are ahead come the second leg in Wales.
Like I mentioned earlier, Chelsea are in great form. The 1-0 loss to QPR at Stamford Bridge was a shocker, but was at least excusable by the fact that after such a busy December (which included the arduous trip to Japan) tiredness was bound to bring about a below-par performance.
That excluded, since Benitez got to grips with the job after a dodgy start the Blues have been swatting away opponents for fun, hitting at least five against Nordsjælland, Leeds United and Aston Villa, as well as picking up impressive wins at Everton and Norwich City.
In other words, Chelsea are playing well enough that I’m not looking to oppose them at these type of odds, especially with Benitez gunning for a trophy.
But what I will do, however, is bank on Swansea keeping themselves in the tie come the second leg and back the 31/10 that Chelsea win a match that sees under 2.5 goals, which offers potential returns of £82 for new customers backing it with their free £20 bet.
The Swans are a good enough side that they won’t get rolled over and there is a tendency for their away matches to be low-scoring affairs. There have only been 21 goals in their ten away games in the Premier League, with seven of them seeing two goals or fewer.
Michael Laudrup’s side are more than capable of keeping it tight, as a record of just nine goals conceded on their travels proves, but they lack potency: they have scored just 12 goals themselves and have actually failed to find the net on five occasions – half of their away fixtures.
Knowing a home tie is still to come, Swansea will just be looking to do enough to make the second leg competitive and I don’t expect a great deal of ambition.
Chelsea, on the other hand, will know taking a lead to Wales is vital and a narrow home win wouldn’t be the worst result for both parties. At 31/10, I’ll be on that happening.