Blog by: Ani
If this World Cup season does end in the Maracana with yet another Spanish triumph, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres may well look back nine months to this night in Swindon as a turning point.
Sidelined for much of the season under Jose Mourinho, their class was the difference as Chelsea ultimately made serene progress into the fourth round of the Capital One Cup.
Having selected a team that had cost £180 million in transfer fees alone, Mourinho is clearly again planning to take this competition seriously but his satisfaction was tempered by injuries to Marco van Ginkel and Ramires.
Both central midfielders are likely to miss Saturday’s London derby against Tottenham, with Chelsea especially fearful that Van Ginkel sustained serious damage to his knee in a challenge.
“Marco will have a scan but it doesn’t look good,” said Steve Holland, Chelsea’s assistant manager.
“Ramires has a muscular injury at the top of his hip that was causing him discomfort, so he’ll be a major doubt for Saturday.”
It all leaves Chelsea heavily reliant on John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in central midfield, although David Luiz does provide another option and finished last night’s match in that position. Most intriguing will be whether Mata and Torres have played their way back into the team for Saturday.
The strength of the opposition must clearly be taken into account but, having been challenged by Mourinho to prove him wrong, an answer of sorts arrived.
Mata was still short of the form that has made him Player of the Year for the last two seasons but, in providing the assist for Torres’s first and splitting Swindon’s defence on several occasions, it was a timely reminder of his quality. His work-rate off the ball was also impressive.
Torres, though, was man of the match, scoring the first after Mata’s intervention and then brilliantly creating Chelsea’s second. Holland duly explained what Mourinho expects from his creative players.
“The message to all our attacking players from day one has been they need to contribute offensively and also contribute out of possession and defend,” said Holland. “There’s no such thing as a luxury player now.”
Holland did pinpoint how, as well as create two excellent chances for Torres, Mata’s work-rate was exemplified by him chasing back to defend a corner in added time.
In truth, Mata had been relatively anonymous until the 27th minute when he dissected Swindon’s defence with a wonderful diagonal pass. Torres was clear on goal but his attempt to lift the ball over Wes Foderingham was saved.
It proved to be a warning, however, and Mata’s next contribution resulted in a goal. Ramires had begun the move, spraying a perfect pass to Mata on the right. He quickly cut inside and shot, with Foderingham only able to palm the ball into the path of Torres, who finished calmly from an acute angle.
The goal settled Chelsea and they were soon 2-0 ahead. Torres was fed the ball with his back to goal but turned his two markers with an exquisite back-heel and then selflessly set up Ramires to score.
John Terry was forced to replace the Brazilian and, although Mark Schwarzer did make one excellent save, Chelsea were never seriously threatened. Holland also outlined Mourinho’s desire to win a third League Cup. “Jose wants to win trophies, full stop,” he said.
Swindon (4-1-4-1): Foderingham; N Thompson, Hall, Ward, McEveley; Kasim; Ajose (El-Gabbas 73′), Luongo, Pritchard, N’Guessan; Ranger (L Thompson 45′)
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Bertrand; Essien, Van Ginkel (Ramires 10′, Terry 45′); Mata, De Bruyne (Ba 78′), Willian; Torres