Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea: 3 Blues talking points

Middlesbrough takes the early advantage heading to the second leg as they defeat a toothless Chelsea at Riverside in the EFL Cup Semifinal first leg.

Middlesbrough v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg
Middlesbrough v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

The Blues maintained over 70 percent possession throughout the game and had 18 shots on goal but failed to score, facing consequences from the Championship outfit. The first moment of controversy arose in the opening minutes when Axel Disasi seemingly cleared out Emmanuel Latte Lath after his shot at goal. However, The Blues were fortunate that VAR was not in use at the Riverside Stadium.

Despite a challenging start, it was Mauricio Pochettino’s side that had the first significant chance. Chelsea almost received a goal from a mistake by Boro’s midfielder and captain Jonny Howson, who played the ball right into Cole Palmer’s feet in front of the penalty box. Palmer, unfortunately, couldn't capitalize, hitting his low shot just past the post—a missed opportunity Chelsea regretted after Middlesborough opened the scoring six minutes later.

A long ball down The Blues’ left side, coupled with Levi Cowhill's inability to handle Isaiah Jones, allowed Hayden Hackney to stroke home and give the hosts a deserved lead.

Despite second-half substitutions, the game unfolded similarly for Pochettino’s men, who struggled in the final third despite possessing the lion's share of possession. Without Moisés Caicedo's crucial interceptions in center-midfield, there might have been more trouble at Đorđe Petrović’s net.

Chelsea could have played until the early hours of Wednesday morning and still not scored. They must significantly improve if they aim to progress to Wembley in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Middlesbrough face injury blows

It may not mean much after managing to win; the Championship side was forced to make two substitutions in quick succession in the first half, which may play a factor in the return leg. Within moments of referee Samuel Barrott's whistle amid the vibrant noise at Riverside, the atmosphere intensified. However, it wasn't due to north-easterly gusts but a mistake from Chelsea star Levi Colwill, allowing Middlesbrough striker Emmanuel Latte Lath to advance toward goal. Regrettably for the Ivorian, his shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area was partially blocked by Blues defender Axel Disasi, who caught Lath with a well-timed sliding challenge, leaving him visibly discomforted. Despite attempts to continue after treatment, Michael Carrick's joint-leading scorer had to be substituted in the fifth minute, with Josh Coburn taking his place.

15 minutes later, Carrick, already contending with key absences, made his second change. A foul by Chelsea winger Noni Madueke resulted in an injury for Alex Bangura. Despite assistance from the medical team, the former Feyenoord prodigy couldn't continue, leading to Bangura being replaced by centre-back Matthew Clarke. This forced Boro to reshuffle their defense and it worked like a treat, despite some shaky moments but still kept the clean sheet.

Cole Palmer hattrick of misses

It wasn't Palmer's night; he played as the striker, more specifically a false nine, and he should have at least bagged once. After missing one, Chelsea fans would have been thinking, surely the next one's going in. Unfortunately for the CFC fans who had undertaken the 510-mile round trip, that wasn't the case. When Thomas Glover spilled a long-range shot from Enzo Fernandez right in front of Palmer, leaving the goal wide open, the Manchester City academy graduate somehow sent his attempt over the bar. Then, in half-time stoppage-time, Palmer received a beautiful through ball from Moises Caicedo and cut inside to create space for a shot. Yet again, the £45m youngster faltered, delivering a tame effort at Glover, who was once again left relieved. In simple terms, Palmer should have secured a first-half hat-trick.

Toothless Blues: Boro with the advantage

So far, you likely grasp the situation - Chelsea lacks clinical finishing in front of goal. Despite dominating possession and showcasing talent in forward play, Mauricio Pochettino's team will return from the north-east with nothing to show for it.

Middlesbrough, also grappling with recent goal struggles, fought hard to maintain their clean sheet. However, they anticipate a more challenging task when heading to West London. Despite Pochettino signing Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku, an additional striker in January wouldn't hurt, even as Todd Boehly attempts to curb spending and tighten the revolving Stamford Bridge door.

These two teams will face each other again at Stamford Bridge in two weeks to determine who secures a spot in the Wembley final on the 25th of February. While Chelsea has been a specialist in this competition for the past couple of decades, Middlesbrough holds the advantage in their second-leg clash, showcasing a tremendous display of attacking endeavor and defensive resilience.