Fernando Torres may have managed a respectable 14 goals so far this season – a marked improvement on the last campaign – but the former Atlético Madrid captain has been overshadowed by another Spanish striker in the Premier League, Michu. Already being linked with a move to Arsenal, as well as Russian duo Anzhi Makhachkhala and Zenit St Petersburg, and the 26-year-old added to his price-tag with a clinical finish at Stamford Bridge. Signed for £2m from Rayo Vallecano by Michael Laudrup, he took his tally to 16 goals in 25 appearances in the 37th minute. Jonathan De Guzman capitalised on Branislav Ivanovic’s heavy touch and subsequent slip, teeing up the Swans striker, who fired past Ross Turnbull. It was his fourth goal in five trips to London this season. Meanwhile, for Torres, a forgettable night came to a premature end when Rafael Benítez opted to replace the former Liverpool striker with Demba Ba, who was unable to convert two late headers.
Perhaps mindful of Queens Park Rangers’ success at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, Laudrup’s men were set out to contain a Chelsea side packed with attacking talent despite the absence of new signing Ba and old-boy Frank Lampard. Swansea are well-accustomed to dominating the possession stakes against most opposition in the top flight, but were content to concede the ball to the Blues for large spells of the two-legged cup tie. Inevitably, this invited pressure and Mata was guilty of wasting the best of their 14 chances on target in the first half. Laudrup urged his men to push further up the pitch to relieve pressure on their rearguard in the second half, while Leon Britton was instrumental in winning possession, and crucially, utilising the ball when Swansea did show rare glimpses of their pretty style of play. Ashley Williams and Chico were comfortable handling Torres and Chelsea’s three marauding attacking midfielder, limiting the home side to just five shots on targets as the Blues failed to convert their 64 per cent possession into goals. With Ivanovic already playing a large hand in Swansea’s opener, the Serb played a backpass blind to Turnbull, which was intercepted by subsitute Danny Graham, who placed the ball into the vacated net to leave Laudrup’s side in a strong position ahead of the return leg.
With the departure of Joe Allen, or perhaps better known to Reds supporters as the ‘Welsh Xavi’, to Liverpool, there was more onus on Britton to be Swansea’s pass master in the heart of Laudrup’s midfield. Facing some of the most adept users of the ball in the Premier League, Britton impressed with his sensible distribution, while displaying superb close control to navigate his way out of number of tricky situations. A particular highlight came midway through the first half, when he danced his way out of trouble with Luiz and Ramires closing in, before spraying the ball out wide to Wayne Routledge. But his contribution to a memorable cup win (or first-leg victory) was much more than his use of the ball as he regularly tussled with Chelsea’s midfielder for possession, and more often than not, came out on top. The 30-year-old has spoken of his desire to cap a career, which has seen Britton move from the Third Division to the Premier League, with a Wembley appearance. “We’re not a team that’s realistically going to be challenging for the Premier League title, so cup competitions give us the opportunity to try to win some major silverware,” said Britton. He could have his work cut out in a fortnight’s time if Lampard returns to Chelsea’s starting line-up.
After making such an instant and telling impact at Chelsea, scoring four goals and producing two assists after signing from Internacional in the summer, Oscar has fallen out-of-favour in recent weeks. Since the appointment of Benítez as interim manager, the 21-year-old has largely been consigned to the bench, starting just five games. So, for Oscar, it was a chance to lay claim to a regular starting spot by inspiring the Blues to a victory in the first leg. While Juan Mata missed a gluttony of chances for the home side, Oscar was quietly productive as he looked to carve open a stubborn Swansea defence. In the 20th minute, David Luiz’s threaded pass found Oscar, who instinctively laid it off to Eden Hazard, who in turn fed Ramires but the Brazilian couldn’t beat Gerhard Tremmel. With the Swans dropping deeper and deeper, Oscar conjured an ingenious backheel to release Mata clean through but the Valencia forward was once again wayward with his finish. With Oscar growing into the game, Luiz chipped a long ball into his compatriot’s feet but the youngster’s uncharacteristic miscontrol ensured Tremmel’s clean sheet stayed intact. Benítez’s decision to withdraw Ramires – not Oscar – when introducing Frank Lampard with 20 minutes remaining was indication of the Spaniard’s faith in the summer signing, but the playmaker needs a run of games to rediscover the electric form which he produced at the start of the season.
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