Chelsea blew away Middlesbrough with a rampant first-half display to record a 6-2 aggregate victory and clinch their place against either Liverpool or Fulham in the Carabao Cup final.
Boro stunned the Blues with a 1-0 win at the Riverside Stadium in the first leg and had genuine ambitions of becoming the first EFL side to eliminate Premier League opposition in the semi-finals since Bradford knocked out Aston Villa 11 years ago.
But Chelsea snuffed out those hopes before half-time thanks to Jonny Howson’s own goal, plus strikes from Enzo Fernandez, Axel Disasi and Cole Palmer.
The latter two of those four goals came after Boro were caught playing out from the back and that pattern continued in the second half, with errors by Michael Carrick’s team punished by Palmer and Noni Madueke.
Morgan Rogers added a late consolation goal for Boro but, amid an inconsistent campaign, Chelsea have now won five of their last six matches, while their supporters can look forward to a trip to Wembley on February 25 as Mauricio Pochettino looks to win silverware in his first season at the club.
How Blues bounced back to record memorable win
In mid-table in the Premier League and without European football, the domestic cups have taken on great importance for Chelsea and Pochettino as they bid to demonstrate tangible progress during a transitional season.
Inefficiency in front of goal contributed to their shock first-leg defeat but Chelsea more than made up for that at Stamford Bridge as Boro’s wretched record in west London continued – they have now failed to win in 22 away games against the Blues, dating back to 1975.
The first 10 minutes suggested Boro may be capable of ending that long winless run, with Chelsea’s young players looking nervous and Pochettino frequently berating Levi Colwill and Mykhailo Mudryk, in particular.
But after Ben Chilwell – making his first start since September due to injury – nodded narrowly wide, the captain set up Chelsea’s opening goal, threading a pass through to Raheem Sterling, with the unfortunate Howson then diverting his cutback into the net.
Rogers failed to make the most of Boro’s only first-half chance, shooting at Djordje Petrovic from a well-worked corner, before Fernandez swept home a loose ball after a clever Sterling backheel freed Disasi in the area.
Disasi was rampaging forward again minutes later, starting an attack by pouncing on Matt Clarke’s pass before bursting onto the end of Sterling’s low cross.
Boro were again caught out for Palmer’s first, with Daniel Barlaser losing possession on the edge of his own area.
Despite the three-goal aggregate lead, Pochettino showed his ruthless side at half-time, replacing the ineffective Mudryk, who earned an unnecessary booking and lost possession more times (eight) than he found a team-mate with a pass (seven).
Boro’s self-destructive streak continued in the second half, with losses of possession in dangerous areas punished by Palmer’s confident finish and Madueke’s deflected strike.
Rogers then scored Boro’s first goal at Stamford Bridge since Alen Boksic’s strike 23 years ago, bending into the far corner to show why Aston Villa are so keen to sign him this month and sending the visiting supporters back to Middlesbrough with something to cheer.
But the night belonged to Chelsea, who will eagerly await the victor of Wednesday’s semi-final between Fulham and Liverpool before bidding to win the Carabao Cup for the first time in nine years.
Analysis: Poch priorities cup in bid to end English trophy drought
“Much was made of Pochettino’s failure to win a trophy during an otherwise impressive five years in charge of Tottenham. Three trophies in 18 months at Paris Saint-Germain quietened that talk but the pressure remains for him to break that duck in England.
“Chelsea may no longer be the reliable title-winning outfit of much of the past two decades but Pochettino has often spoken of the need to compete for and win trophies during his time in west London.
“With the final coming in February, the Carabao Cup is the first opportunity for Pochettino and his side to meet those expectations. Jose Mourinho often made a point of prioritising the competition during his first seasons in charge of Premier League sides due to the momentum that lifting a trophy in mid-season can provide.
“Pochettino has taken the same approach and the fact Chelsea have reached the final should be applauded. But tougher tests still await, with rivals Fulham or title-chasing Liverpool looming at Wembley.
“But for now, Pochettino can point to the progress his side are undeniably making under his watch.”
Poch: People need to believe in us
Pochettino said reaching the final is “really important” for his players, adding: “Sometimes we can think about the history of Chelsea and the missing players.
“We are young and we need to grow. These types of games are a good experience for young players and it is about now growing and it will help us to compete.
“We are building a very good team. The mentality is good. We have plenty but we need time.
“It is a new project. We are building a team and sometimes it is normal to play worse. We played well and we didn’t win but now it will be a big boost for us.
“People need to believe and trust in us and we go to the final with the chance of winning the first trophy of the season.”