After a trip to Japan that yielded no trophies, Chelsea return home from their massive flight and face an old nemesis in Leeds United. The rivalry between these clubs date far back to the 1970’s and include a meeting in the FA Cup Final where no fewer than 3 players would have been sent off if refereed by today’s standard.
In current times, this match takes on its own significance. Chelsea return from the Club World Cup after seeing another trophy slip through their fingers, as Corinthians defeated the Blues 1-0 in the Final on Sunday. Leeds enter Wednesday’s match with the intentions of proving that they’re still a force to be reckoned with, despite having to climb back from dropping down as far as League One.
One other key is that this, in today’s parlance, could also be the “Ken Bates’ Derby.” The familiar visage of Ken Bates will grace the director’s box at Elland Road and should be a reminder of where Chelsea once were. Where Leeds stand now could easily have been the fate of Chelsea if not for the investment of Roman Abramovich. Meanwhile, Leeds are hoping that their latest investor can bring them success once again.
However, on the pitch is where the match is played and on the pitch is where we will look.
Leeds danger man is, and has been for a while, one Luciano Becchio.
Becchio has been quite the loyal servant to the club after joining the side in 2008 via a trial when Leeds were in League One. A journeyman who had never really impressed the top clubs in Argentina and Spain, he joined Leeds with much to prove himself. The club took a chance on him, and he’s repaid the favor with 72 goals in 184 matches for the club. This season, he’s taken his total to 15 goals in just 24 matches.
Becchio’s quite an interesting player because we have seen his type before, namely in Dimitar Berbatov. Becchio is a pure focal striker who not only helps create the openings that lead to chances, but also gets onto the end of those passes to score. If you look at the Leeds team, he is virtually their sole means of scoring goals. If he doesn’t score, you really do wonder who will from Leeds.
Becchio’s strike partner this season is Ross McCormack.
The interesting thing to me about looking at Leeds is how usually Becchio gets his goals, but his strike partner often gets a lot of opportunities because Becchio’s movement generally opens up space for others. That’s how Jermaine Beckford reached the heights that he did with Leeds, but has failed to reach those heights since leaving for Everton.
However, this season, Becchio is the main man with McCormack being the one that works to create chances. While Becchio is the lead scorer for the club, McCormack leads the assist charts with 5 this season. It shows a good rapport that has developed between the two men, and it’s that ability to play in tandem that Chelsea’s center backs will have to be aware of, especially with the absence of both John Terry and Gary Cahill.
Beware of the intensity of the Championship sides.
The one thing I’ve noticed in the Championship sides is a relentless tempo of play. The quality of the Championship in relation to the Premier League will always be lesser. However, one thing that Championship teams always play with is an unrivaled intensity and willingness to chase everything that at times can unsettle a bigger opponent.
I’ve noticed in watching the Championship clubs that many play a more direct game, but not necessarily a long-ball game. By direct, I mean that many teams look to play the ball from back to front as quickly as they can to attempt to catch out an opponent before they get back in position. It’s something that becomes a bit of a bother to play against because you have to guard against committing numbers forward and leaving too few people to defend the eventual counterattack.
It’s why, I believe, the Championship is usually a very tight league. There is quality in the league, but often the teams play a style that leads to the play looking disjointed as they try to catch the other out with more direct games. However, a team looking to play a more patient game has to guard against counters.
Chelsea must look to rebound from disappointment in Japan.
The biggest key to this match is how Chelsea cope with the travel and the disappointment in the performance in the Club World Cup. The largest hurdle to overcome is the knowledge that many of the players did not play particularly well and questions must be asked about Rafa Benitez’s tactics in that match.
The League Cup is another opportunity for a trophy in a season that is seemingly looking more and more likely to not produce a trophy. To be fair to the players, a large number of them are new to the club and are simply learning what it’s like to win at this level. However, a season without a trophy is still a season without a trophy.
The burden of expectation is that Chelsea should win this match. However, the performance must show marked improvement from the dire performance in their other matches with trophies on the line.
Beware of the Neil Warnock factor.
To complicate matters, Chelsea not only have to motivate themselves to beat Leeds United, but they also must do so with the knowledge that Warnock will have his team ready to pull the upset. To them, this is their trophy and they’re playing at home at Elland Road.
Chelsea would be a massive scalp for Leeds to collect and would give them a two-legged tie in the semifinals of the League Cup. To do so would be a great achievement for their season and a step in the direction under their new ownership.