LONDON • Chelsea's ambitions stretch well beyond winning the League Cup this season, yet there was no hiding what this 4-2 third-round victory over Leicester City on Tuesday meant to Antonio Conte and his players.
The Chelsea manager was a picture of pumped-up raw emotion on the touchline as Cesc Fabregas, whose extra-time goals settled a thrilling contest, ran half the length of the pitch to celebrate the moment that sealed their last-16 spot.
With only 32 minutes of Premier League football behind him this season and doubts about whether he fits into Conte's plans, Fabregas' reaction was understandable.
This was a personal triumph for the Spaniard on an evening that turned into an ordeal for Marcin Wasilewski, who was shown a second yellow card in the 89th minute for striking Diego Costa with his forearm.
Up until that stage a wild and chaotic game was still in the balance, though it felt as though the momentum was with Chelsea.
The Blues had recovered from going 0-2 down inside 34 minutes, amid some calamitous defending, to turn things around.
Shinji Okazaki scored both Leicester goals, yet Gary Cahill's header on the stroke of half-time changed the complexion of the tie.
Four minutes after the restart Cesar Azpilicueta thumped home a sumptuous volley and in the blink of an eye Chelsea were level.
Yet from the moment Wasilewski was sent off, there was only going to be one winner and it was a splendid goal from Fabregas that put Chelsea in front.
His second goal, 2min 29sec later, was thrashed into the roof of the net and killed the game.
"If you ask me if I'm happy with the goals we conceded, I'm not happy, it's true," Conte said.
"But I saw a great reaction from all my players and this is very important because they showed the will to win."
The question now is whether Fabregas will retain his place in the starting line-up for Saturday's game at Arsenal, his former club.
Conte was evasive on that issue but he praised the midfielder's tactical awareness after the game.
"Cesc is an intelligent player, a clever player and he sees the game, he feels the situation. I'm pleased for him, because in the games when he didn't start he always had a great attitude," the manager said.
It was also a night when Fabregas seemed determined to make his point on as well as off the field.
"I was happy to play from the start, first of all, but secondly if I can help the team then fantastic," he said.
"Hopefully this will shut up a few journalists who are talking rubbish all the time, and focus on what is important - Chelsea winning."
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri was left to rue his side conceding just before the break and the red card to Wasilewski.
"I think the first key in the game was when we conceded the goal on the last corner (in the first half). We lost two dangerous men, David Luiz and Cahill, and at that point something changed," he said.
"I think the second key was when 'Was' was sent off - Wasilewski is a very aggressive man, it's his strength. But it's important sometimes if he maintains calm and stays cold on some occasions."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS