League Cup: Benitez Must Lift Chelsea for Trip to Leeds

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Chelsea boss, Rafe Benitez

Having flown halfway around the world only to return home tired and trophyless from the Club World Cup in Japan, Chelsea’s weary band of jet-setters are unlikely to be savouring a League Cup visit to Leeds United on Wednesday.

A trip to Elland Road and Leeds was once an intimidating prospect for any side, from their glory days under Don Revie in the late 1960s and early 1970s to becoming the last winners of the old first division in 1992, reports Reuters.

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The fallen giants ply a more humble trade these days thanks to the financial implosion that engulfed the Yorkshire club.

Now mired in mid-table Championship (second division) mediocrity and desperately searching for the golden ticket back to the Premier League, Leeds are seeking a hat-trick of top-flight League Cup scalps and a place in the semi-finals.

Everton and Southampton have been put to the sword at Elland Road, and Leeds manager Neil Warnock would dearly love to ratchet up the pressure on Chelsea counterpart Rafa Benitez.

“I hope we go out and give them a good game, but if we play well and they do as well there’s only one winner, so we have to hope they’re not right up to it and we’re on top of our game,” Warnock told Sky Sports.

“I don’t think I could have picked a better team to play against. It promises to be fabulous with no pressure on us. Whatever team I select we can just go out and enjoy it.”

It is unlikely that League Cup success figured too prominently in Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s thoughts at the start of the season but he may just give the quarter-final clash a little more attention now, if only to put Benitez further under the microscope.

Out of the Champions League after becoming the first holders to exit at the group stage and seemingly out of Premier League title contention after slipping 13 points behind leaders Manchester United, Chelsea are running out of options for silverware.

Trophies went begging after defeats in the Community Shield and Super Cup this season and a 1-0 defeat by South American champions Corinthians on Sunday ended their Club World Cup hopes.

Benitez has won three of his seven games in charge since replacing the axed Roberto Di Matteo last month but the Spaniard, a deeply unpopular appointment with Chelsea fans, cannot afford a slip-up against Leeds.

The teams have not met since the final match of the 2003-04 season, a 1-0 win for the Londoners at Stamford Bridge that was to prove symbolic for both clubs for contrasting reasons.

For Chelsea, it proved to be the end of Claudio Ranieri’s tenure before Portuguese Jose Mourinho was ushered in to turn the club into champions and himself into the self-annointed “special one”.

For relegated Leeds, their freefall had only just begun as the Champions League semi-finalists of 2001 paid a heavy price for spending beyond their means.

They went into administration and plunged into the third tier of English football in 2007 before getting back into the Championship three years later.

While a return to their glory days is some way away, Leeds can at least look forward to a sounder financial footing and the prospect of investment with a deal in place to be bought by Dubai-based GFH Capital.

For now, they hope to follow the lead of Yorkshire neighbours Bradford, who caused one of the biggest upsets for many a year last week when they won a penalty shootout against Arsenal to reach the last four.

“We’ve got to take a bit of heart from Bradford when they played Arsenal because they had a strong outfit out and anything can happen in the cup,” said Leeds midfielder Paul Green.

“We have already beaten some Premier League teams here this season, no team likes to come to Elland Road to play against Leeds United and that is what it is going to be like on Wednesday.”

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