Chelsea show unity, not jetlag
They have been from Yokohama to Yorkshire but finally Chelsea's intrepid travellers have something other than air miles to show for the journeys. When the jetlagged trailed to Leeds, ignominy beckoned: five trophies could have eluded them before the season reached its half-way point. Yet, while world domination proved beyond them, there could be a capital consolation. The Club World Cup runners-up may yet be Capital One Cup winners. They face Swansea in the semi-finals as firm favourites to secure silverware.
For Rafa Benitez, who cited trophies repeatedly as his reason for joining Chelsea, it may be a panacea. This is scarcely the cup Roman Abramovich covets but the manner of his side's victory brought vindication. Arsenal suffered embarrassment in Yorkshire eight days earlier and Chelsea risked the same fate before a game of two halves saw an emphatic illustration of their qualities.
Perhaps, too, Benitez can claim some credit for their comeback, and not just because a hazardous obstacle was cleared with the aid of a Hazard: the substitute Eden, whose catalytic cameo involved a goal, an assist and winning the corner for the crucial second.
Nostalgia played an understandable part in the build-up, reminders of these clubs' warring tribes of the 1960s and 1970s ever-present in every preview. But Benitez borrowed and updated a trick from the handbook of Chelsea's old rivals.
It was four decades ago that Don Revie played dominoes with his Leeds side. Team-bonding exercises have clearly evolved since then and Benitez took Chelsea ten-pin bowling in Japan, but the impact is the same. A show of spirit was required when Luciano Becchio put Leeds ahead. It was provided. "We were talking about character and the reaction of the team was so good," Benitez said. "I was really pleased with the time we spent together in Japan."
If, almost half a century ago, Chelsea were perceived as the fancy dans of the two clubs, the flair players prospered on a wet, wild and windswept night in the West Riding. Juan Mata was outstanding, illustrating there is substance to accompany his considerable style. Victor Moses chipped in with a crisp finish and played a part in the Spaniard's crucial equaliser. The dynamic Hazard was the definition of an impact sub. It ended Artisans 1-5 Artists.
And yet it began very differently. Benitez's men were hassled and harried by their hosts, Leeds operating at a high tempo. Neil Warnock, the man who turned Chelsea down to stay at Notts County in 1991, had an old-fashioned masterplan based around running. "We made it a difficult night for them," Warnock said. And, after losing to the Brazilian Corinthians, Chelsea encountered an Englishman who represents the antithesis of Corinthian values.
While Leeds' classiest midfielder since the Revie era, Gary McAllister, watched on, a successor set the tone. Michael Brown may be the opposite of the stylish Scot; niggly and occasionally naughty, the agent provocateur and the ubiquitous irritant.
Frank Lampard was needled. Cautioned early on - perhaps over-compensating for the lack of ballwinners around and ahead of him - he provided the right response, with an authoritative display of leadership. "I knew they'd get a roasting at half time," Warnock said. "I think Frank was very disappointed with one or two of them."
Before and after the break, he fizzed shots off the skiddy surface, though the goals went to others. Indeed, despite their costly inability to breach Corinthians' defence, Chelsea have now struck 17 times in five games. "I think we are doing well in attack," Benitez said.
The vital leveller came a minute after the break. "A mistake cost us the equaliser," Warnock added. Mata squeezed out a shot from the edge of the box that Jamie Ashdown could only push into the bottom corner of the net. Branislav Ivanovic put Chelsea in front with a thumping header from Lampard's corner and then Victor Moses, supplied by Mata, picked out the bottom corner of the net. Hazard set up Fernando Torres for the fifth, a tap in, after scoring the fourth when released by David Luiz with a glorious ball.
It was a redemptive moment for the Brazilian. Leeds' goal came when overconfidence got the better of him. David Luiz strolled forward and opted for a chipped pass. Sam Byram headed it clear and, with Luiz stranded upfield, Leeds broke at pace. Michael Tonge released Jerome Thomas, whose cross was swept in by Becchio.
Then Tom Lees missed a chance to double Leeds' lead. Cue the comeback. "The second half was amazing," Benitez said. The unity of the exhausted was impressive. They, rather than Leeds, marched on together and into the semi-finals.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Juan Mata - The Spaniard keeps on making the difference for Chelsea. Some of his passing was both glorious and incisive and, even in the difficult first half, he was the danger man.
LEEDS VERDICT: It is back to the Championship with the hope that the long-mooted takeover will finally be completed, Ken Bates' reign ended and Warnock's budget increased. "We do need one or two players," he said. "The chairman said I have signed 16 but he is counting the [on-loan] ones who have gone back." The final scoreline was harsh on Leeds: Becchio remains a fine goalscorer while Tonge and Thomas have quality, by second-tier standards. But they tired around the hour mark and were unable to get back into the game.
CHELSEA VERDICT: It was a fine result for a depleted team but Benitez's choices highlighted the imbalance in his squad. There is a shortage of strikers and central midfielders and a surfeit of wingers. The lesser-spotted Marko Marin was belatedly granted a first start and offered evidence why he has been kept in cotton wool for four months. It never reflects well on a winger when his full-back is a greater attacking threat, and Cesar Azpilicueta was. Inadvertently, Marin did change the game: his removal, and Hazard's arrival, was a pivotal point.