Chelsea secured their place in yet another Wembley final after dominating Middlesbrough with an impressive 6-1 victory in the second leg at home. The team will face Liverpool or Fulham in the showpiece event of the EFL Cup.
Here are three blue lessons learned from the match.
The beginning of the match brought back memories of the first leg.
In the opening 15 minutes, the game replicated the dynamics of the match two weeks earlier. Chelsea felt lacking a distinct purpose, circulated the ball in their defensive zone, and the visitors intercepted their attempts to move forward. As Chelsea struggled to transition the ball from the back to the front, Middlesbrough effortlessly advanced towards the hosts' box.
Mauricio Pochettino expressed evident frustration with his team's initial performance, directing stern words at players Ben Chilwell and Levi Colwill. Supporters were also disheartened, anticipating a swift initiation to erase the visitor's lead.
Players were calm in executing the plan.
The game took a dramatic turn when Chilwell executed an inside run towards the end of the first quarter. Spotting Raheem Sterling, he delivered a well-controlled pass, allowing Armando Broja an easy chance to open the scoring. However, Broja's miss-kick resulted in Jonny Howson inadvertently putting the ball in the back of his net.
The goal alleviated the anxiety among home fans, even though the team had displayed composure from the start, executing a well-thought-out plan. Another miss-kick from Broja later provided Enzo Fernandez ample space to extend Chelsea's lead.
Middlesbrough attempted to compact the middle, but Chelsea exploited space over the top with players making runs from the center. Additionally, the visitors' overreliance on playing from the back proved unwise against a Premier League side at their home. Chelsea capitalized on this vulnerability, making it three after Axel Disasi intercepted a pass and connected with Sterling's cross.
Cole Palmer mitigated the first-leg concerns by capitalizing on another attempt from Michael Carrick's side to play from the back. The victory was sealed by then, and Chelsea eased off in the second half. Nevertheless, they scored twice more, with Palmer securing his second, followed by Noni Madueke completing the home side's scoring.
Players elevated their performance to meet the occasion.
The squad collectively endured a forgettable night in their previous encounter. But on Tuesday night, Chelsea players showcased their quality. The winter break should have helped them. Despite a challenging start, Sterling demonstrated his abilities after the initial few minutes. Pochettino places significant trust in the English winger; however, the West London side remains concerned about his inconsistency.
Fernandez and Moises Caicedo effectively controlled the game from the midfield. The presence of a proper left-back like Chilwell in his natural position also proved beneficial for the home side. The overconfidence displayed by Carrick's side in the first leg further aided Chelsea in securing a significant victory.