Just three days after being defeated in the FIFA Club World Cup final in Japan, Chelsea are faced with the prospect of a Capital One Cup quarterfinal with old rivals Leeds United at Elland Road.
While the club in the past may have viewed the League Cup as something of an afterthought as they focused on more prestigious prizes like the Premier League and Champions League, this time Chelsea could well be glad for any silverware they can get their hands on.
The Blues’ defense of the Champions League has already ended after elimination in the group stage, while they currently sit 13 points off the top of the Premier League, albeit with a game in a hand. The defeat to Corinthians in Yokohama at the weekend was the latest disappointment in this most turbulent of seasons for Chelsea.
While it would have been far from a fix all, Rafael Benitez must have been especially eager to get his hands on the trophy to try and aid his acceptance with a large section of Chelsea’s fans that remain hostile to his appointment.
Benitez will doubtless have the same attitude toward the League Cup, that a trophy, of any kind, would aid his cause. And right now he needs all the help he can get.
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The Spaniard meets an old foe on Wednesday in Leeds boss Neil Warnock. When Warnock was in charge of Sheffield United, he heavily criticized Benitez for fielding a weakened Liverpool team against the Yorkshire club’s relegation rivals Fulham toward the end of the 2006-07 season.
Fulham won the game and Sheffield United were relegated and Warnock is still so bitter over the event that he would not even commit to shaking Benitez’s hand at Elland Road. Warnock also said that Benitez had threatened to sue him if he continued to bring up the subject.
The hostility between the two clubs’ managers only adds to a rivalry between Leeds and Chelsea that dates back to the 1960s. The animosity truly ignited in a replay for the 1970 FA Cup final, which has been described by many as not so much a game of football, but a “bloodbath.”
While Chelsea came out on top on that occasion, it is Leeds who had enjoyed the greater success as a club. Until, that is, Roman Abramovich poured his billions into Chelsea at a period that coincided with Leeds paying the price for spending borrowed money.
Leeds have since spent three seasons in England’s third tier and now sit 12th in the Championship. Goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown is hoping to be fit to take part, while Jerome Thomas and Lee Peltier are also injury doubts. Alan Tate is cup-tied.
For Chelsea, Daniel Sturridge is fit again, although with the forward having just returned and with talk of an imminent move to Liverpool, Fernando Torres may again start in attack. The Blues will be without the suspended trio of Gary Cahill, John Mikel Obi and Ramires. The problems in midfield are exacerbated by the long-term injury to Oriol Romeu.
D: Peltier, Pearce, Lees, White
M: Byram, Norris, Tonge, Green
D: Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Luiz, Bertrand
M: Lampard, Oscar
Moses, Mata, Marin
Prediction: With Chelsea having several players ruled out through either injury or suspension and with the squad having only arrived back in the country on Monday, Leeds must surely feel that their opponents are ripe for the upset.
While it may not quite be that straightforward, Leeds have won three home games on the bounce and could well take the match to extra time or even penalties.
Leeds 1-1 Chelsea
Where to watch: The Capital One Cup quarterfinal will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.