What exactly do Chelsea need following their ultimately unsuccessful marathon round trip to the Far East? A blood and thunder Capital One Cup quarter final up north on a cold December evening against a determined, Neil Warnock-managed Leeds United would probably not be the first answer to pass Rafa Benitez’ lips.
This fixture carries with it several side plots that should make for interesting viewing at Elland Road.
Firstly, there is an enmity between these two clubs and their sets of fans that goes back to the late 60’s and early 70’s when they both fielded great teams worthy of challenging for major honours. Indeed the pair met in the infamous 1970 FA Cup Final which Chelsea won in a replay. Both sides were renowned back then for their combatant nature as well as their style on the ball. These were the halcyon days of Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Norman ‘Bites-yer-legs’ Hunter.
During the decline that each of tomorrow nights’ opponents experienced during the late 70’s and 80’s, both clubs and their rivalry were associated and defined by the hooligan element that attached itself to them.
The two managers also have history between them. Warnock has yet to forgive Benitez for what he saw as aiding his Sheffield United team’s relegation from the Premier League in 2007, by choosing a perceived weakened Liverpool line-up to face Fulham on the final day of the season. Fulham’s subsequent victory over the Reds helped them stay up and sent Warnock’s Blades to the Championship. Legal action was even threatened by the angry Yorkshireman, so all eyes will be on the dugouts and whether the two exchange the customary handshakes either before or after Wednesday’s encounter.
Where To Watch Online: Leeds vs. Chelsea, Capitol One Cup
Leeds United will be hoping to shock another Premier League outfit in this year’s League Cup after previously dumping both Everton and Southampton out of the competition and with Chelsea just back from the other side of the world, they’re unlikely to get a better opportunity.
With home advantage, a vociferous crowd and the lure of a semi-final place up for grabs, Leeds will fancy their chances of following their near-neighbours Bradford City into the last four of the competition.
Warnock, who likes nothing more than a scrap with the big boys, will go into this one without several key men which will stretch his meagre resources to the full. But he will take comfort in the knowledge that they are in good form in the Championship. Leeds’ chances could rest on the performance of the experienced El-Hadji Diouf, who will revel in the chance to get under Chelsea’s skin.
Blues boss Benitez probably feels he could do without this game, coming as it does between their mammoth trip to Japan for the FIFA World Club Championship and the vital Christmas fixtures, so key to their battle to remain in the hunt for Premier League glory.
Having only arrived back into the UK on Monday afternoon, the effects of the long flight home on top of their exertions against Brazilian club Corinthians will no doubt play a part in team selection. With Gary Cahill, John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Ramires all out through either injury or suspension and others in need of valuable rest, Benitez will have to dig deep into his reserves to put out a side fit enough and ready to withstand the likely Leeds onslaught.
This distraction may be both a blessing and a burden for these two teams, coming as it does when both managers would prefer to save their players’ legs. But this competition represents the best chance of silverware for both clubs this season so a full-blooded cup tie is on the cards in West Yorkshire on Wednesday. The Londoners should just about have the measure of their hosts in what promises to be an entertaining 90 minutes.
Prediction: Leeds United 1-3 Chelsea951616