Maturing Chelsea’s semi-final show of strength leaves one key question

The Blues were able to walk through the Middlesbrough defence at times  (Reuters)
The Blues were able to walk through the Middlesbrough defence at times (Reuters)

After months of unpredictability, Chelsea are now a mere 90 minutes from what they know best. Mauricio Pochettino has the chance to win a first trophy of this ownership, and his own first trophy in England, after the easiest of 6-1 wins over Middlesbrough. Chelsea are through to the Carabao Cup final for the third time in six seasons, even if the previous ones feel like a different lifetime.

The worries of the first leg of this tie meanwhile feel like a different world. This match against Middlesbrough had been billed as the sort of awkward tie that could start to cause Pochettino’s time to start spiralling, especially with how they’d lost the first leg 1-0.

It ended up a show of strength. Poor Middlesbrough endured a night they’ll want to instantly forget, when they had themselves been just 90 minutes from an occasion to remember. They buckled under the force of Chelsea’s attacking.

That phrase should be put in some context, and it’s not like many will be building up a mere Carabao Cup final appearance as a new dawn. Chelsea still probably have to play Liverpool, although even Fulham would be, again, awkward opponents.

There was then the manner they won this. In a game characterised by youth, Chelsea’s exuberance won out against Middlesbrough’s naivety. The different cost of that youth helped. There is a chasm between the clubs in the accounts, and it led to numerous gaps on the pitch. Rarely will Pochettino’s side have a victory as easy as this.

At a time when he is trying to instil a system – and he was notably frustrated at the slow speed of their play in the first half – it was Michael Carrick’s adherence to his own approach that just served up a series of goals to Chelsea. Middlesbrough kept trying to play it out from the back and kept giving it to Pochettino’s attack. There were times when there was so much space they just strolled through. For the first goal, that rendered this a formality, the returned and restored Ben Chilwell just seemed to waltz through Middlesbrough’s backline. Raheem Sterling squared and Jonny Howson unfortunately put the ball into his own net trying to challenge Armando Broja. It only took until the 15th minute for Chelsea to complete their objective for the evening, which was making it 2-1 on aggregate. Enzo Fernandez scored after Chelsea again walked through.

It was already at the point with Carrick where you’d be wondering if even Ange Postecoglou would have said this puritanical commitment to playing out from the back was a bit much, mate.

Cole Palmer scored twice after missing several first-leg chances (Getty Images)
Cole Palmer scored twice after missing several first-leg chances (Getty Images)

There shouldn’t be much scolding of Middlesbrough, though. This is the kind of result that really should be happening given the financial gap between Premier League and Championship, something that has become such a live issue with the absence of a deal between the competitions and the forthcoming bill on football governance.

What matters is how Carrick perseveres in the Championship, especially given it was this football that got them further than 17 other Premier League clubs. They also got a reward their fans certainly deserved for the constant singing. Morgan Rogers, who Aston Villa have been chasing all window, ended up scoring late on.

It was already 6-1 by that point. Axel Disasi had scored maybe the goal of the game through a sweeping passing move that saw the defender surge up the pitch to sweep the ball in. Cole Palmer then twice used the Middlesbrough area as his own little stage, conjuring some magic. By the time of Noni Madueke’s goal, Middlesbrough looked like they had just been exhausted by the occasion. That only made Rogers’s goal all the more creditable.

Morgan Rogers scored Boro’s late consolation (Reuters)
Morgan Rogers scored Boro’s late consolation (Reuters)

As regards how impressive this was for Chelsea, that will depend on what comes next.

It’s obviously great to enjoy a 6-1 win and it was all about getting to a final. Both are great for confidence anyway, but they’re particular psychological boosts given how this season has gone.

The question is really whether enjoying a win like this fosters the assurance in Pochettino’s approach that they more consistently start to recreate it in more demanding games. There was almost a sense here they got to play it out at a relatively slow pace, such was that gap between the teams.

But then it is all about building this team back up again, and this young side maturing. Even getting to a domestic cup final is quite a step.

Chelsea return to a Wembley Stadium the club knows better than most, but that their current players don’t know that well at all.