Chelsea eased the pressure on interim manager Rafael Benitez and sealed their place in the League Cup semi-finals thanks to an emphatic 5-1 victory over old rivals Leeds at Elland Road on Wednesday.
Leeds, currently mid-table in the Championship, sensed a quarter-final shock when they took a 38th-minute lead thanks to a 15th goal of the season from Argentine striker Luciano Becchio.
However, defender Tom Lees missed a great chance to double the advantage in first-half stoppage-time, heading over from an El Hadji-Diouf cross as the Yorkshire club attempted to emulate their neighbors Bradford City, who booked their semi-final place with a stunning upset over Arsenal.
Chelsea refused to go the same way as their Premier League rivals, moving through the gears to score five second-half goals to make it through to the last four in style.
“The team was quite good in the first half and the reaction of the team in the second half was fantastic, after coming back from Japan with jet lag and changing some players,” Benitez said.
“The reaction was amazing. We were looking for character and we talked about it at halftime,” he added.
They were level 60 seconds after the re-start when Leeds goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown allowed Juan Mata’s weak 20m shot under his grasp on the greasy surface, the ball finding the bottom corner.
Two goals in as many minutes midway through the half sealed victory in Chelsea’s eighth game in 24 days, a little more than 48 hours after their return from defeat against Brazil’s Corinthians in the Club World Cup final in Japan.
Branislav Ivanovic stole in at the near post to head home a corner on 64 minutes to give the visitors a lead they would not relinquish.
The win is to give the Spaniard further ammunition in his battle to win over a large section of Chelsea support who have been vocal in their protest at the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo and the choice of the former Liverpool manager as his replacement.
Man-of-the-match Victor Moses made it three after 66 minutes, rounding off a three-man move with Fernando Torres and Mata to fire past Ashdown from 20m.
Chelsea waited until the final 10 minutes to assert their authority with two further goals as Leeds tired.
Substitute Eden Hazard made it four with a calm finish beyond a stranded Ashdown inside the box, after latching on to a superb 40m through-ball from David Luiz.
Hazard was involved in the fifth with seven minutes remaining, squaring for Torres to tap home his 13th goal of the season.
Meanwhile, Benitez set his sights on League Cup glory after his side were handed a semi-final clash with Swansea.
Just minutes after full-time at Elland Road, Benitez learned that Chelsea had been drawn to play fellow Premier League side Swansea in the two-legged semi-finals.
“They [Swansea] are a team that likes to play football, likes to play on the floor and also try to keep the ball, so I think it will be interesting,” Benitez told Sky Sports.
The other semi-final sees League Two’s Bradford take on Premier League strugglers Aston Villa.
The first legs take place in the week of Jan. 7, with the returns two weeks later.