Out of their league, but Swansea City ready to compete with Chelsea again as Wembley beckons
IN Spain, as Michael Laudrup could tell you, the mantra among the top flight's smaller clubs is "Estra no es nuestra liga".
This is not our league.
There is an air of resignation when it comes to trying to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
They are in the same division, La Liga, but not the same league.
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Something similar could be said in this country.
There may be an extra giant or two, but a club of Swansea City's stature cannot expect to compete with Manchester City or United over the course of a Premier League campaign.
Chelsea, current European champions and serial trophy winners since Roman Abramovich arrived in West London with a helicopter full of roubles, also fall into the heavyweight category.
Asking Swansea to compete with a club with Chelsea's resources over a 38-game league season would be like asking Rafael Benitez to win a popularity contest at Stamford Bridge.
In the current climate, it is not going to happen.
A cup tie, however, is a different story.
In a one-off game, as the cliche goes, anything can happen.
The fly in the ointment for Swansea is that the Capital One Cup semi-finals are played over two legs.
Michael Laudrup's team have delivered one heroic performance in this contest, humbling Chelsea on their own patch against all the odds.
Yet Swansea must do it all again this evening if they are to realise the dream that is a Wembley final.
Talking of dreams, Laudrup's men could not have asked for much more from the first leg.
They set off for Chelsea a fortnight ago intent on staying in the tie.
They came back down the M4 knowing they had given themselves a golden chance to progress.
The plan was to score an away goal and try not to concede too many, with Laudrup admitting before kick-off that a 2-1 defeat would have been acceptable with the return game to come.
Unlike a number of his players, the Dane has a fair bit of experience of two-legged encounters.
That is how it works in the Copa del Rey, after all, not to mention the numerous European competitions he has been part of down the years.
It is no wonder, therefore, that he wore a satisfied smile after Swansea took advantage of two Chelsea errors to chalk up an unlikely 2-0 victory a couple of weeks ago.
Yet Laudrup was quick to point out that there was more work to do, that another epic performance is required if Swansea are to finish the job.
Laudrup argues that it remains a 50-50 call who will make it to the final despite the advantage his team hold.
The bookmakers do not agree. They have Chelsea as favourites to win the game at the Liberty tonight, but expect Swansea to triumph in the tie because of their advantage from the first leg.
If they have called it right, Swansea's supporters will be partying tonight — but only after an evening where tension reigns.
Perhaps fingerless gloves will be the best bet for Swansea's followers.
They will provide some warmth during the cold snap while allowing easy access to fingernails.
There are bound to be nerves on the pitch, too.
Laudrup has been to more cup finals than Jordan has had weddings, but his side is not exactly packed with players with experience of such major games.
There were some jitters among visiting ranks in the first leg, particularly in the opening stages.
And more apprehension would be forgivable tonight given the size of the carrot which dangles in front of Ashley Williams and Co.
Angel Rangel, once a part-time player in Spain, summed up the mood this week when he suggested Swansea's players have been waiting their whole lives for an opportunity like this.
For the megastars in the Chelsea line-up, by contrast, this is the latest in a long line of grand knockout matches.
The Blues, after all, walk out tonight looking to make it 11 cup finals in ten seasons.
Clubs become regulars in the showpiece occasions, it seems, when they are prepared to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the playing staff.
Chelsea's medal- winning regulars may not have to contend with nerves, but Swansea's supporters will hope their team have greater motivation.
For Benitez's men this is just another semi-final, for Swansea it is only the third in 101 years of history.
No wonder Laudrup has no concerns about fatigue affecting his players this evening.
Yes Swansea have played a lot of games of late, but Laudrup is convinced the prize on offer will drive his players on from the first whistle until the last, whether that comes after 90 minutes or 120 — or even in a penalty shootout.
Given that they start 2-0 down, Chelsea may just accept the idea of spot-kicks were they offered to them now.
They did not do badly in their last shootout, after all. Think Didier Drogba, Bayern Munich and the Champions League final last May.
Swansea, of course, hope the tie will not get that far.
They are well aware of Chelsea's firepower — with players like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Demba Ba on the books, it is impossible not to be.
And Chelsea have proved on a number of occasions this season that they are capable of running riot.
Aston Villa (beaten 8-0), Wolves (6-0), Manchester United (5-4), Southampton (5-1), Leeds (5-1) and Stoke (4-0) could all vouch for that.
But then Swansea, after their wobbly start to life under Laudrup, have shown they can stand up to the sharpest attacks in the land this season, and they have conceded only one goal in two meetings with Chelsea in 2012-13.
More of the same would do very nicely this evening.
In fact it would be more than very nice. It would mean one of Swansea City's greatest ever nights.