Capital One Cup Semifinals: Chelsea and Villa Look to See off Potential Upsets

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2013

Chelsea and Swansea City prepare to tussle in the Capital One Cup, with Bradford City and Aston Villa facing off in the other semifinal.
Chelsea and Swansea City prepare to tussle in the Capital One Cup, with Bradford City and Aston Villa facing off in the other semifinal.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Emphasis this week shifts from the FA Cup third round to the Capital One Cup (League Cup) with a place at Wembley potentially two games away for four clubs.

Bradford City host Aston Villa in the first of the semifinal clashes on Tuesday before Swansea City face a second London club within a week, as they visit Chelsea on Wednesday in the first leg.

The Swans fought back to draw 2-2 with Arsenal and force a replay in Sunday's FA Cup tie, adding an extra game to an already busy fixture list.

Manager Michael Laudrup will not relish his players having to face an extra 90 minutes in between their two meetings with Chelsea having only just completed their draining Christmas schedule.

Still, these are heady times for a club who famously only just avoided relegation out of the Football League a decade ago.

South Wales rivals Cardiff City reached the League Cup final last season (losing to Liverpool), but Swansea will do well to match that achievement with cup specialists Chelsea to overcome.

The Blues have won six domestic cup competitions since Roman Abramovich took over (winning this tournament twice in 2004-05 and 2006-07 before coming runner-up a year later) and will view this as a valuable opportunity to add yet another piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet.

Despite beating Swansea 4-1 the last time they faced each other at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea know they are facing a much improved team, having been held to a 1-1 draw in their last two meetings. That is in addition to the series of impressive results the Welsh club have recorded against several of the Premier League's best teams.

This contest between the top-flight's current fourth- and ninth-placed teams may be the round's glamor tie, but it is Bradford and Villa's first leg the night before that is arguably the more intriguing.

The Bantams unexpectedly dumped Arsenal out of the quarterfinals on a night that brought back memories of the Yorkshire club's finest moments in the Premier League at the turn of the millennium.

Admittedly, they were few and far between in a stay that lasted only two seasons and precipitated years of struggle on and off the pitch, but in their defeat of the Gunners, there were reminders of the spirit that had shined so briefly in that previous adventure in the big time.

Bradford's results since then have been mixed, though that is likely as much to do with their status as a solid if unremarkable side within a competitive League Two as it is them having already turned their attentions to these semifinals.

Manager Phil Parkinson will attempt to channel their excitement at competing on a prestigious stage into something more focused as they look to compete with their Premier League opposition.

Villa endured a miserable Christmas, as they suffered a sequence of heavy defeats, something that may have left Bradford thinking they were ripe for the taking.

Results have improved since, however, with a draw at Swansea and progression into the FA Cup fourth round at the expense of Ipswich Town.

Thoughts of their continuing fight for survival will weigh heavily on Paul Lambert and his young charges. The example of city rivals Birmingham City, who won the same competition in 2011 but were still unable to avoid relegation, will act, too, as a cautionary tale at getting too caught up in cup exploits.

However, this break from the slog of the league has to be viewed as a positive for Villa, as does their avoidance of the other semifinalists, both things Lambert would be wise to emphasize as he attempts to improve his team's confidence.

Unlike Arsenal, who slipped up last month amid the hostile surroundings of Valley Parade, Villa also have the safety net of a return leg at home in a few weeks.

Bradford's best chance of progressing may lie in their ability to get a lead at home this week. But Villa only have to keep the score close, at which point they will be confident that in Christian Benteke, the ever-improving Andreas Weimann and the returning Darren Bent, they have the requisite firepower to blast away Bradford's hopes eventually.

A Cinderella story. A rags to riches tale. Joy amongst the gloom. Another opportunity for more success.

Four possible storylines, two of which will begin to unfold this week. Which two they turn out to be could make for some exciting viewing.


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