Rampant Chelsea surges into English League Cup final to give American owners chance at first trophy

Chelsea’s players celebrate after the English League Cup semi final second leg soccer match between Chelsea and Middlesbrough at the Stamford Bridge stadium in London, England, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

After a chaotic and underwhelming 20 months in charge, Chelsea’s big-spending American ownership has a date at Wembley Stadium as the London club seeks a first trophy of the new regime.

Chelsea routed second-tier Middlesbrough 6-1 in the English League Cup semifinals on Tuesday to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit to an opponent that was looking to become the first team from outside the Premier League to reach the competition’s title match since 2013.

A 15th-minute own-goal tied the score on aggregate before Chelsea added more goals in the first half through Enzo Fernandez, Axel Disasi and Cole Palmer.

Strikes after the break from Palmer and Noni Madueke piled on the misery for Middlesbrough as Chelsea sealed a 6-2 aggregate victory, setting up a match against either Liverpool or Fulham in the final on Feb. 25. Liverpool will take a 2-1 lead into the second leg in London on Wednesday.

If it is Chelsea-Liverpool, it will be a repeat of the League Cup final in 2022. The teams also met in the FA Cup final that year, with Liverpool winning both matches on penalties.

A Todd Boehly-fronted consortium and Clearlake Capital have owned Chelsea since buying the club off Roman Abramovich in May 2022. Their spending on players has been unprecedented — more than $1 billion in the first three full transfer windows — but hit-and-miss, while the regime is onto its third permanent manager in Mauricio Pochettino. The team is languishing in ninth place in the Premier League, having finished a dismal 12th last season.

It has taken a while but things might finally be falling into place, even if Chelsea still appears far off the top teams in England.

“When you see the team, we are young and we need to grow,” Pochettino said. “This type of game is good experience for our young players. Step by step, we are building a good team.

“We have the talent, but we need time to put it all in place. It’s a new project.”

Even after its surprising loss at Riverside Stadium two weeks ago, Chelsea was still favored to advance to the final and the flurry of early goals — four in the first 42 minutes — virtually ended Middlesbrough’s hopes.

The visiting team coached by former Manchester United and England midfielder Michael Carrick was its own worst enemy at times, like when Jonny Howson diverted the ball into his own net for the opening goal as he tried to tackle Armando Broja in the area.

Fernandez swept in a close-range finish for 2-0 after Broja helped on a cross from Disasi, who then scored himself by converting a cross from Raheem Sterling in the 36th.

Palmer, a revelation since joining from Manchester City in August, stroked in his first goal of the game in the 42nd after dispossessing Boro defender Daniel Barlaser on edge of the visitors’ area.

He made it 5-0 in the 77th before substitute Madueke wrapped up the win four minutes later.

Morgan Rogers grabbed an 88th-minute consolation for Middlesbrough.

The domestic cups offer the best — likely the only — chance of silverware this season for Chelsea.

Pochettino’s team is still in the FA Cup though faces a tough fourth-round match against Aston Villa on Friday.

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