Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kicking Them When They're Down: Swansea City 0 - Chelsea 0

photo by Seattle Municipal Archivesvia PhotoRee

Only 10 years removed from nearly dropping completely out of the Football League, Swansea City found itself in an extremely enviable position Wednesday evening against a visiting Chelsea. Still shorn of John Terry, the Blues defense featured Branislav Ivanovic at center back -- the one and same Branislav Ivanovic who was almost singlehanded responsible for his side's 2-0 deficit heading into last night's second leg of the Capital One Cup Semi-Final. Somewhat tellingly, despite trailing by two goals, the Chelsea lineup also failed to include a certain Spanish striker -- with Demba Ba sitting at the tip of the Chelsea spear rather than his club compatriot Fernando Torres.

While the traveling fans from London loudly sought to remind the hosts of their club's reigning status as Champions of Europe, it was the Swans who opened the game looking like world beaters, as Wayne Routledge and Michu both gave the Chelsea back line fits in the opening ten minutes. For their part, the most effective Chelsea goalmouth action came when the aforementioned Ba stepped into the box with the ball at his feet and attempted to "invent a foul," to borrow a traditional Uruguayan phrase. Referee Chris Foy, perhaps unaware of this customary South American gesture, looked distinctly unimpressed as he waved play on and chose to ignore the striker's protestations.

While the Swans raced around the pitch like extras in an Energizer Bunny commercial, the Blues appeared stuck in second gear for most of the match's opening half hour. As the half stretched toward its conclusion, however, there were ominous signs that the Chelsea train was finally beginning to rumble into life. All fanciful footwork and no end product to be sure, but the home crowd definitely began to sense that the game's momentum was in danger of swinging to the visitors. That lingering sense of danger, along with yet another nearly leg-snapping tackle delivered by Chelsea's resident expert, the Brazilian Ramires, left a rather indelible impression as the two teams jogged off the pitch at the break.

The second half began to unfold in a more even manner, although David Luiz's star turn as sideline ballboy unmasked the true sense of urgency the Londoners were beginning to feel as the Swans' two goal advantage, as well as their defense, continued to stand firm. What the home side lacked in offensive ambition it more than made up for with hustle and determination, harrying the visitors into scuffed shots and moonballs.

Juan Mata's sizzler near the 73 minute mark gave Swansea's underworked 'keeper Gerhard Tremmel his first legitimate piece of action since late in the first half, but the German showed he was still paying attention as he made quick work of the shot.  Also making quick work of something was Chelsea's Eden Hazard, who believed the matter of retrieving a ball from out of bounds so urgent that he saw fit to kick an underage ballboy who had committed the crime of hanging onto his possession for slightly longer than the Belgian deemed proper. Despite brandishing fewer cards than any top flight official this season, Referee Foy saw red upon the Belgian's indiscretion and correctly made certain the Chelsea midfielder did, as well.

Down to 10 men, and not only defeated, but disgraced as well, Chelsea finally did the honorable thing: they raised the white flag of surrender with the late game insertion of Fernando Torres into the match. Although neither side scored on the evening, the Blues were the night's big loser as Swansea City move on to a less-than-marquee matchup with Bradford City in the Cup Final next month.

This is farlieonfootie for January 24.

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