It has become popular recently to talk of Swansea City as a club on the crest of a rare generational surge, 10 years on from financial near-collapse but now reaching fresh heights of giddily sustainable achievement on a regular basis.
After a controlled, compact and – when the moment came for their goalscorers Michu and Danny Graham – clinical 2-0 Capital One Cup semi-final first leg victory at Stamford Bridge it is perhaps fair to say this is an all-time high for Swansea: ninth in the Premier League and now plausibly 90 minutes from their first Wembley Cup final.
Again, it was Michu who provided the initial rapier thrust, reward for a Swansea performance not just of neat and accurate passing, but of vigorous defending, with Ashley Williams outstanding in a second half of sustained but diffuse Chelsea pressure. For Chelsea there was again the spectacle of chances spurned and of a No9 who seems not just to have lost his clinical edge, after some encouraging signs, but to have rediscovered a tendency to drift around the edge of games.
Torres and Michu: on current form it almost seems indelicate to make the comparison. Torres, Michu and Graham even more so given that Swansea's scorers cost £5.5m combined, or £44.5m less than Torres who, two years on from that record transfer, was making his 100th appearance for Chelsea here. It was tempting to wonder beforehand if he would perhaps celebrate with a goal, or alternatively just carry on as normal. If this seems a little unkind it was, frankly, another entirely peripheral night for Torres, who suffered the added indignity of being overshadowed on his home ground by his superbly composed fellow countryman.
Michu it was who gave the visitors the lead seven minutes before half-time with his 16th goal in 25 appearances. Torres, who should probably look away at this point, took 78 games at Chelsea to reach the same total. It is a comparison that may become more relevant in time: two years younger and lacking El Niño's high-spec early-career pedigree, Michu may soon offer a threat to Torres at international level. Vicente del Bosque confirmed recently that he will make his Spain debut in the upcoming friendly against Uruguay.
From the start here Michu and Torres lined up in identical positions, at the tip of a clutch of attacking midfielders, even if defensive duties meant Michu was often an isolated figure in the first half. Physically they are similar, although Michu is lithe and gangly where Torres has a fast bowler's powerful backside. If he still seems to stroll at times Rafa Benítez had clearly instructed his Brazilian midfield anchors Ramires and David Luiz to press aggressively when Swansea had possession, with Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar joining the pack snapping at the heels of Leon Britton and Jonathan de Guzman, starving Swansea's spearhead of any real glimpse of the ball.
Asked about Michu before this match Benítez was – understandably – lukewarm in his praise, suggesting that the former Oviedo man owed his goal rush partly to slack Premier League defending. Happily there is more to Michu than goals: in Spain he often played as a second striker and it was dropping deeper here on 20 minutes that he had his first meaningful touch, picking the ball up from Pablo Hernández and having Swansea's first shot on target, which was easily held by Ross Turnbull.
At the other end Chelsea continued to fritter away some energetic approach play. For once Torres was not to blame in this regard. In fact he scarcely touched the ball in the opening half hour, instead allowing Ramires and Mata to spurn well-worked chances, Mata shooting straight at Gerhard Tremmel after some pedigree interplay with Hazard.
Swansea's opener came out of the blue. Branislav Ivanovic, who has at times found the switch back to central defender tough, was horribly at fault for both goals and caught dithering on the ball by De Guzmán, who fed Michu. The finish from the edge of the area was instant and decisive. He scores when he wants, the Swansea fans pointed out. And as Stamford Bridge became increasingly frantic in the second half it seemed this match was destined to be decided by, currently, the most clinical player on the pitch.
Chelsea pressed throughout the second period but lacked cutting edge. As the home fans called for Frank Lampard, David Luiz had a succession of shots, poking over from the kind of free-kick the Englishman tends to blast low and hard. Michu, by now, was reduced to defensive hustling, although there was one memorable flying scissors volley that flew well over.
For Torres, a spectator on the right wing at times, there was further indignity. With 20 minutes to go the first chants of "We want Demba Ba" rang out. With 10 minutes left the man himself took Torres's place, a premature end to a 100th appearance that offered encouragement only to Chelsea's buoyant South Wales visitors. Their evening was then gilded by the brilliant surprise of Graham adding a second in stoppage time. It was a moment of capering ecstasy for Michael Laudrup on the touchline and for Chelsea another lesson in nerveless finishing from Swansea's cut-price strikers.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald