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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Chelsea stormed into the League Cup final with a 6-1 thrashing of second-tier Middlesbrough to easily overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
The Blues struck four times before half-time as Jonny Howson's own goal, Enzo Fernandez, Axel Disasi and Cole Palmer put Mauricio Pochettino's men on the road to Wembley next month.
Palmer and Noni Madueke piled the pain on Middlesbrough in the closing stages on a night that could prove the turning point in Pochettino's early reign in charge.
A much tougher test awaits against either Premier League leaders Liverpool or local rivals Fulham on February 25, but there are promising signs for the Argentine that an expensively-assembled yet still raw squad is beginning to come together.
"Today we were very clinical in front of goal. We missed that in the first leg and we were disappointed. Today we were really good and I think that is the difference," said Pochettino.
The former Tottenham boss now has the chance to win his first trophy in England football and Chelsea's first since the club's owners took over in 2022 and stared splashing out over £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in transfer fees.
Boro are 11th in the Championship and the gulf in class between the sides eventually told over 180 minutes.
The first blow of the night for Michael Carrick's men was a self-inflicted one as veteran midfielder Howson turned into his own net as he tried to prevent Armando Broja from tapping in Raheem Sterling's cross.
After struggling at home in the early months of Pochettino's reign, Chelsea have now won seven consecutive games at Stamford Bridge and the floodgates opened on Middlesbrough as the hosts found their flow.
Disasi was only deputising at right-back due to injuries to Reece James and Malo Gusto, but the Frenchman played a huge part swinging the tie in Chelsea's favour.
Firstly, he combined beautifully with Sterling to square for Fernandez to put the five-time League Cup winners in front on aggregate.
Disasi then showed the composure of a striker to stroke home Sterling's low cross for just his second goal for the club.
If the second and third goals owed much to Chelsea finding their form, the fourth was a gift from the visitors as Daniel Barlaser coughed up possession inside his own box and Palmer kept his head to roll in his 10th goal in 23 games since his move from Manchester City.
Of the huge investment made by Chelsea's owners over the past 18 months, the £40 million splashed out on Palmer is looking the best buy.
The England international stroked home Conor Gallagher's pass to make it 5-0 13 minutes from time.
"He is a player with an amazing talent," said Pochettino on Palmer. "He's a player who understands the game. He has the quality and talent to see the situation, to read the game in all aspects and is so versatile."
Substitute Madueke's effort then had too much power for Rav van den Berg to clear off the line.
But there was a crumb of consolation for the thousands of travelling fans from Teeside who continued to vociferously back their side all night.
Morgan Rogers may have been playing his final game for Middlesbrough as Aston Villa line up a move for the 21-year-old before the end of the January transfer window.
Rodgers showed why he is attracting Premier League interest with a fine finish into the far corner from outside the box two minutes from time.
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