Blues get back in the groove

Leeds United 1 Chelsea 5
It was threatening to be another one of those games for Rafael Benitez.

The type already becoming too familiar.

A goal behind at half-time to a Luciano Becchio goal in front of a raucous Elland Road orchestrated by conductor Neil Warnock, this was a match a more spineless Chelsea side could have lost.

Yet the response from Rafa Benitez’s side was both swift and emphatic.

Chelsea refused to go the same way as their Premier League rivals Arsenal did against Bradford as they moved through the gears to score five second-half goals to make it through to the last four in style.

Juan Mata levelled matters little over a minute after the restart before Branislav Ivanovic, Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres all got in on the act.

In the draw afterwards, they were pitted with Swansea, while League Two Bradford were paired with Aston Villa.

The win was just the response Benitez was looking for after his team’s defeat to Brazilian side Corinthians in Sunday’s Club World Cup final.

“Considering we came back from Japan and the jet-lag, the players did fantastic,” said the Spaniard.

“We talked about showing character at half-time and the reaction was fantastic. Every competition is important for us. A top side has to try to win and now we are close to Wembley.”

Having claimed in the build-up he had “no idea” if he would shake the Spaniard’s hand, Warnock had the perfect opportunity to duck out of exchanging greetings with his counterpart.

The Leeds boss made no secret of his disgust at Benitez’s decision to play a shadow side against Fulham a couple of weeks before Liverpool’s Champions League final with AC Milan in 2005.

The Cottagers won and stayed up by a point meaning Warnock’s Sheffield United team were relegated and three days later, Warnock resigned.

But to his credit, he sought out the Spaniard and, with a smile, shook his hand.

Warnock laughed: “If it wasn’t for Rafa I wouldn’t have had a great time at Crystal Palace, QPR and now at Leeds, so I’ve got a lot to thank him for!”

The hosts, currently mid-table in the Championship, sensed a shock when they took a 38th-minute lead thanks to a 15th goal of the season from Argentinian striker Becchio, who slid the ball home from 12 yards as he met a Jerome Thomas cross to round-off a length-of-the-field move.

Defender Tom Lees missed a great chance to double the advantage in first-half stoppage time, heading over from an El Hadji-Diouf cross as the Yorkshire club attempted to emulate their neighbours Bradford City, who booked their semi-final place with a stunning upset over Arsenal.

And the visitors were level 60 seconds after the re-start, keeper Jamie Ashdown allowing Mata’s weak 20-yard shot under his grasp on the greasy surface, the ball squirming into the bottom corner.

Branislav Ivanovic stole in at the near post to head home a corner on 64 minutes to give Chelsea a lead they weren’t to relinquish as they moved a step closer to claiming their first silverware under interim manager Benitez.

The win will give the Spaniard further ammunition in his battle to win over a large section of Chelsea support who’ve been vocal in their protest at the sacking of Roberto di Matteo, and the choice of the former Liverpool manager as his replacement.

Man-of-the-match Moses made it three after 66 minutes, rounding-off a neat three-man move with Torres and Mata to fire past Ashdown from 20 yards. Chelsea waited until the final 10 minutes to assert their authority with two further goals as Leeds tired and left gaps in a failed attempt to find a way back into the contest.

Substitute Hazard made it four with a calm finish beyond a stranded Ashdown inside the box after latching onto a superb 40-yard through-ball from David Luiz, who made amends for his mistake that led to Leeds breaking the deadlock as the hosts shaded a close first-half.

Hazard was involved in the fifth with seven minutes remaining, squaring for Torres to tap home his 13th goal of the season after pouncing on the loose ball after another fine save from the over-worked Ashdown.

LEEDS UNITED: Ashdown, Byram, Lees, Pearce, Peltier, Green, Brown (Norris 72), Tonge, Thomas (White 68), Diouf (McCormack 72), Becchio.

CHELSEA: Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Bertrand (Cole 74), Lampard, Oscar, Marin (Hazard 60), Mata (Ferreira 85), Moses, Torres.

Referee: Andre Marriner.


Lifestyle

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman who’s growing resentful of her widowed mum’s needy behaviour.Ask a counsellor: My mother is so clingy since losing my dad – what can I do?

More From The Irish Examiner