LEAGUE CUP

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Bradford facing final hurdle

Bradford City
Carl McHugh and Rory McArdle celebrate Bradford's 3-1 win against Aston Villa.
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Amy Lawrence

Amy Lawrence is a Contributing Writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer. Follow her on Twitter.

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Pressure in sport can manifest itself in a multitude of different ways. Aston Villa’s manager Paul Lambert is usually a man who would give the impression of firm coolness if stranded at the bottom of a hill watching a ten-ton monster truck hurtling towards him. But his composure showed signs of cracking in the build-up to his team’s Capital One Cup semi-final against Bradford City.

Some background: Bradford are a mid-table team in the fourth tier of English football. They are currently the lowest ranked club that has, at one point, been in the Premier League. Their squad was put together for peanuts. They have, over the past decade, suffered a severe decline and unmanageable debts pushed them close to extinction. Against all reasonable expectation, Bradford have enjoyed a fine, fairytale cup this season, defeating the odds time and again. Three times in a row they have knocked down Premier League superiors. After seeing off Wigan and Arsenal, the latest chapter saw them thump Villa 3-1 in the first leg of the semi-final, a surprisingly handsome lead to take into the second leg at Villa Park.

Given their recent trials and tribulations, they were so overwhelmed by their first leg victory, the man in charge of the PA system could not contain his enthusiasm and announced that the fans had better start looking to book their hotels in London for the night of the final. It just so happened that the man with the microphone is a member of the clergy and Bradford City’s club chaplain. Let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt and say that he probably didn’t mean it as an insult to the opposition.

And this is where we get an insight into Lambert’s pressure. The Villa manager suffered a failure of his sense of humor, He accused Bradford of being "disrespectful" to Villa, who of course still have a home game to retrieve the situation. "We’ll see what happens now," he added pointedly.

Some 24 hours after that argument is resolved, a different sort of pressure will begin to boil up at the Liberty Stadium, as Swansea go about protecting their own two-goal lead against Chelsea.

It's a complicated assignment for Michael Laudrup. It is not always easy to psychologically prepare for a game in which you have a comfortable advantage. If Swansea play safe, focusing on defending and not giving anything away, Chelsea are handed an invitation to attack. On the other hand, Swansea can't be too reckless, too cavalier, for fear of leaving themselves exposed to danger.

Chelsea have to go for the jugular, and with their creative trio of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard tucked in behind either Fernando Torres or new signing Demba Ba, there is more than enough attacking potential to score the required goals to drag the Blues back into it.

Chelsea arrive buoyed by a weekend victory over Arsenal, which went some way to mending some of the damage done by recent shocks at Stamford Bridge - as epitomized by Swansea's 2-0 win in the first leg. The star of the show, as usual, was their scoring sensation Michu, whose habit of popping up with vital goals is a hallmark of their season. But notably, it was the way Swansea played with calmness, with control, passing the ball comfortably and enjoying a foothold in the game, which was equally impressive.

The sense of anticipation in south Wales is heady. "All of Swansea is waiting for this game," said Laudrup. They had a perfect warm-up on the weekend, with a composed win over Stoke. "Winning is always the perfect preparation, winning and no injuries," added Laudrup.

The sense of anticipation is building. Swansea need to keep their cool, to ensure they confirm their own chance to book some hotel rooms in London come cup final day.

Amy Lawrence is a contributing writer for FOXSoccer.com who has been writing about the game since USA `94, covering the Premier League, Champions League, European leagues and international soccer.

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