Chelsea topple Derby County to book League Cup semifinal spot

BY Jonathan Wilson • December 16, 2014

LONDON -- Jose Mourinho has always had a special relationship with the League Cup. It was, in 2005, the first trophy he won in English football; a bauble, perhaps, but one that eased some of the pressure on his first season working under Roman Abramovich.

He won it again in 2007 - although a double of that and FA Cup couldn’t prevent him being ousted the following September – and he took a step closer to making it the first trophy of his second spell at Chelsea as his side produced a performance of typical efficiency to beat Derby County and reach the semi-final.

Derby, having gone 2-0 down, did briefly threaten a comeback, but that was ended by the extremely controversial sending off of Jake Buxton. Still, for Derby, third in the Championship, this was a valuable test of how far the club has come -- and how far it is from being able to prosper in the Premier League if it is promoted this season.

They were of course unfortunate not to go up through the play-offs last season, losing in the final despite pummelling a Queens Park Rangers side reduced to 10 men after an hour.

Since the arrival of the former England manager Steve McClaren last year, there has been a steady improvement in Derby’s play. This season they have proved capable of fluent, efficient passing football and were top of the table until Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough.

For long spells here, though, Derby struggled to make any impression on the game – although they are hardly alone in failing to ruffle Chelsea this season. The positive is that they put up rather more resistance than they did in losing 3-0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup in January.

For Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa were rested, with Cesc Fabregas returning after suspension to play in front of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel, Andre Schurrle coming in on the right and Didier Drogba playing at center-forward. Ivanovic was brought into the action just before half-time, taking over at center-back after Kurt Zouma was forced off having taken a heavy knock to the head from Petr Cech as he punched a corner clear.

Chelsea took the lead after 23 minutes. As Derby tried to pass the ball out from the back, the right-back Richard Keogh found himself under pressure from Eden Hazard and Didier Drogba. His attempt to pass the ball forward was half-intercepted by Hazard, the ball popping loose to Cesc Fabregas, who laid in the Belgian to open the scoring with a neat finish, his third goal in his last four games.

With Derby sitting deep, Chelsea didn’t create huge numbers of chances, but they dominated possession, and the use of two screening midfielders meant there was little space for the center-forward Chris Martin to offer himself to receive quick balls forward.

Derby began the second half brightly and, seven minutes in, had their chance.  Johnny Russell broke down the right, beat Filipe Luis and cut the ball back for Will Hughes arriving unmarked in the box. He elected to sidefoot his shot, which probably would have been saved by Cech, but ended up being deflected wide by the diving Mikel just in front of his goalkeeper.

Chelsea doubled its advantage two minutes later. Filipe Luis hadn’t previously scored for Chelsea but he opened his account with a majestic free-kick, a swerving powerful free-kick bent into the top corner from 25 yards.

The game wasn’t quite over, though. A poor clearance from Ivanovic surrendered possession with 20 minutes remaining. The ball was worked right to the impressive Russell, who played it square for Craig Bryson to guide a low shot in from the edge of the box via the inside of the post.

Any thought of a Derby comeback, though, vanished with the red card shown to Buxton after 77 minutes. He and Loic Remy tussled while chasing a through ball, but if there was a foul, it appeared initially to be by the Chelsea man – Remy neither went down nor even looked to the officials. Lee Grant, the goalkeeper, slid out to meet the ball – there was initially a suspicion he may have handled just outside the box - and Remy was never in control of it.

It was the linesman, Stuart Burt, rather than the referee Jon Moss, who gave the decision. The decision seemed wrong on two counts: it probably wasn’t a foul and, even if it was, Grant’s pace off his line meant it wasn’t denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Chelsea soon took advantage of the extra man, Andre Schurrle steering in the rebound after Grant had saved from Remy. They had controlled the game for long periods, but there was little doubt they also had benefited from the red card.

 


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