Derby County 1 Chelsea 3

Chelsea ran out relatively comfortable 3-1 winners against Derby in their Capital One Cup quarter-final last night, with their Championship opposition playing some attractive passing Football, but meeting the Premier League table toppers in a clinical mood. It was indicative of their enviable strength in depth that Chelsea could afford to pick from their squad players and yet show no obvious signs of weakening their first eleven. Petr Cech and Andre Schurrle among others came in to freshen up the team but with star names throughout it showed how seriously Jose Mourinho was taking the promotion hunting home side and the competition itself.

Derby started positively and seemed to be settling into a confident rhythm until they came undone on 23 minutes. Slack play at the back allowed their pressing guests to take possession on the edge of the County box and moments later they were behind, as the silky Eden Hazard came in from the left to improve the angle and clinically slotted his right foot shot into the corner. Perhaps a little harsh on Steve McClaren’s men at the time, but a clear demonstration of the ruthless efficiency within their opposition’s ranks. Indeed, for much of the half it seemed that the Blues had further gears to move into should they be required as they kept Derby essentially at arms’ length. They seem to have been instilled with a strong work ethic under Mourinho, a likely consequence of the battle for first team places all over the field.

There were no further goals in the half to dampen the home side’s spirits, although the slick surface was indicative of the precipitation falling from the heavens. Cruelly labelled the ‘wally with the brolly’ while in charge of England, McClaren seems to have learned a harsh lesson it seems and is now a firm convert of leaving the umbrella at home. Indeed both managers decided that pitchside was the place to be, despite the soaking they endured as a result, and seemed equally concerned when there was a long delay for a head injury at the end of the half to Chelsea's Kurt Zouma. He subsequently left the field on a stretcher but again as Branislav Ivanovic came on as a replacement, the team were hardly weakened.

The defensive solidity of the away side was illustrated by the point that Derby’s first real opportunity arose as late as the 51st minute, as the promising mid-fielder Will Hughes’ goalbound shot was blocked by defenders. Unfortunately, it only served to spur on the men from Stamford Bridge and they doubled their advantage on 56 minutes when Filipe Luis exquisitely curled his left- footed free- kick into the corner of the net, his first goal for the club.

Game over, or so most observers thought, but there was to be a mini revival for Derby as after the introduction of the Liverpool loanee, Jordan Ibe, they seemed to rally somewhat as he ran at the seemingly impregnable defence that faced them. They got the lifeline they had been looking for when Craig Bryson scored with nearly twenty minutes still to play, a cool finish beyond Cech. The gathering momentum stalled though when Jake Buxton could count himself unfortunate to be sent off and their hope was extinguished, when substitute Loic Remy’s shot was pushed out by the keeper only for world cup winner Schurrle to slot the rebound home with just eight minutes left.

Sheffield United 1 Southampton 0

The Blues now advance to the semis where they could meet League One side Sheffield United, who rather surprisingly beat the out of sorts Southampton 1-0 at Bramall Lane in the other tie played yesterday. Marc McNulty’s close range effort just after the hour mark proved enough for the Yorkshire side, as Southampton were reduced to ten men in the dying seconds when Florin Gardos was giving his marching orders. It will be the Blades second cup semi-final appearance in the calendar year after reaching the same stage in the FA Cup in April. They will hope for better fortune this time around than their defeat to Hull City then.

The end of the match witnessed the refusal of Saints’ boss Ronald Koeman to shake hands with his opposite number, Nigel Clough, which he later explained as being due to the United back room staff showing a lack of respect both to him and the fourth official during the game, amid rumours that inflammatory language may have been used.

Clough was keen to put the focus back on the performance of his players, rather than on the after match spat on the sidelines. His side were deserved victors on the night as they inflicted the Saints fifth straight loss and can now look forward to the two- legged semi-final in January. 
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