Bradford City will be making most of the headlines as the Capital One Cup semi-finals come to a dramatic conclusion, but we shouldn’t forget what a big night it will be in South Wales on Wednesday when Swansea City host Chelsea in the last-four second leg at the Liberty Stadium.
The 2-0 lead that Swansea secured in the first leg at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago was beyond the wildest dreams of manager Michael Laudrup and a first-ever domestic cup final at Wembley is tantalisingly close for a club that just a decade ago were struggling for their very existence, needing a last day of the season victory over Hull City to stave off relegation from the Football League.
In fact, Swansea will probably never get a better chance to reach the League Cup final and with a two-goal advantage, they are most people’s favourites to finish the job off and they certainly are with bwin, who make the Swans 7/20 to go through, compared to 2/1 about Chelsea.
What a strange game that first leg was. Chelsea dominated at Stamford Bridge for nearly the entire 90 minutes, making all of the chances and having a decent penalty shout turned down when substitute Demba Ba was wrongly adjudged to have dived just before he had a perfectly good goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Yet Swansea were the 2-0 victors thanks to two calamitous errors from the normally reliable Branislav Ivanovic, who sloppily gave the ball away just outside his own box – incredibly poorly in the second instance, when a botched blind backpass to Petr Cech gave the ball to Danny Graham to score a late second – to gift the Swans a lead they barely deserved.
So the Jack Army have one foot in the final but for me, this one is far from done and being the gambling man I am, the price on Chelsea to qualify is of more interest than the quote on Swansea.
As for the 90 minutes, the Blues are the favourites to win at 83/100, with Laudrup’s men and the draw both at 14/5, which looks about right to me because I fancy Chelsea strongly to win at the Liberty.
Blues fans may not thank me for making this comparison, but tonight’s equation reminds of a Chelsea match a few years ago when Blues boss Rafael Benitez was actually sat in the opposite dug-out.
The Spaniard’s Liverpool side had been comprehensively beaten by Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final at Anfield in 2009 and went to Stamford Bridge 3-1 down, needing to score three goals to stand a chance.
Liverpool were 2-0 up at half-time as Chelsea succumbed to the problem that has afflicted many sides in the similar position of defending a commanding first-leg lead – whether to stick or twist.
It is a conundrum that Laudrup has to wrestle with and I think being stuck between containment and scoring a killer opening goal could see Swansea do neither – playing right into Chelsea’s hands.
Even though they started the tie as underdogs, it is now Swansea’s to lose and not many of the City players are used to such high-pressure games, even if their illustrious manager is.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have a manager and a squad of players that have spent the past decade facing every scenario imaginable on a football pitch and I think their extra big-game nous is going to tell.
With that in mind, I like the 9/5 that the Blues win a match that sees under 3.5 goals, which offers potential winnings of £56 for new bwin customers backing it with their free £20 bet after registering.
One thing Chelsea will do is not panic and even though an early goal would be advantageous, as long as it is 0-0 going into the last 20 minutes, an away goal changes the complexion of the match, because the home crowd will become nervy and the European champions will suddenly be in the ascendancy.
To this end, the 23/20 that there are more goals in the second half than the first half is also a good shout.
But my main bet is Chelsea, who are the better side and having won six away games in a row, they can prove it inside the 90 minutes with a win in a game of three goals or fewer at 9/5.
Whether it is enough to get to Wembley remains to be seen.