Rafael Benitez was no fool as Chelsea’s love affair for the FA Cup continued with a morale-boosting victory against rivals Manchester United.
Demba Ba’s exquisite volley at the start of the second half proved to be the winner, as Chelsea held out to record their first clean sheet versus United since 2009.
The Blues have not lost an FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge since March 2003, winning 20 and drawing four in that time.
And with star players such as Mata and Hazard reinstated into the starting line-up after a rest 48 hours ago, it was up to Chelsea to show their worth after clawing back a 2-0 deficit in the original tie.
As for Manchester United, Robin van Persie was rested on the bench whilst Rooney was still nursing an injury, so nemesis Hernandez was afforded a start alongside Danny Welbeck. The Mexican loves a match against Chelsea, having scored in six of the last seven meetings between these two sides.
Two early goals in the original tie over three weeks ago proved Chelsea’s undoing, and it was the Blues who had to wary of any fast start this time round.
But with both sides having played on Saturday, the tired legs showed as nothing much was made in the opening stages.
The first real point of incidence was when Ashley Cole pulled up with a hamstring injury when going head-to-head with Danny Welbeck for pace.
The left-back immediately signalled his game was up after 20 minutes and Ryan Bertrand, as his natural replacement, stepped up.
Demba Ba, meanwhile, had to show why Benitez started him, and his first chance came with a low side-foot drive which David de Gea stopped with his foot.
Neither John Terry or Frank Lampard started for Chelsea, but neither’s experience looked to be needed, as United rarely took the game to the hosts, opting to sit deep and counter as a typical away side would.
Luiz and Hazard, however, had other ideas, but both saw their respective shots fly sky-high.
United resorted to long range efforts, but one from Javier Hernandez nearly caught Petr Cech out, with the ball taking a double swerve before the Czech stopper managed to unconvincingly get a trailing leg on it.
Chelsea have scored in 33 successive FA Cup matches at Stamford Bridge, and it was to become 34 just three minutes into the second half.
Chelsea had been slow all game in their build-up play, but when Juan Mata lifted majestically up to Demba Ba, the Senegalese striker got on the right side of Ferdinand and the offside trap to spectacularly stab a leg at the ball, and his mid-air volley nestled into De Gea’s goal.
Hernandez had a point-blank effort denied in world-class fashion by Petr Cech on the hour-mark as the visitors looked to equalise. Danny Welbeck’s right-wing cross was met by a leaping Hernandez three yards out, but Cech’s waving left hand blocked the Mexican’s goalbound effort. The two shared a laugh in the ensuing corner but it was a staggering save.
Less amused was Sir Alex Ferguson, who, after having the league near enough wrapped up, really ought to have concentrated more on this competition and win the Double.
Giggs and Van Persie joined the action soon after as Ferguson looked to restore parity, but it was Chelsea and Hazard who really ought to have got the game’s next goal, but when through on goal, the Belgian’s composure let him down and he dragged it wide.
The substitutes failed to make any meaningful impact for the Red Devils bar one nice piece of link up play. Much has been made of Gigg’s longevity, but the Welshman has only played 30 or more league games in 11 times in his season, whilst Lampard has managed it 13 times, suggesting Ferguson’s wise rotation of the aging veteran.
As for Van Persie, the £24 million purchase from Arsenal had talked up his side’s Double chances after several years without silverware at Arsenal, but the Dutchman was too wasteful, especially when free in the box and his volley went wayward. The 29-year-old has not failed to score in any of his last nine appearances for Manchester United.
Mata had chances galore for Chelsea, be it a toe-poke or left foot pile-drivers, but De Gea continued to give his side a lifeline with every save.
Chelsea’s substitutions were more to waste time than anything as Torres replaced Ba after Moses switched for Oscar. But Chelsea had done enough to record their 25th win at home to United in all competitions, and a semi-final date is set against Manchester City. Chelsea may well need another Drog-BA inspiration at Wembley on April 14th.
- Manchester United 2-2 Chelsea (thechelseachronicle.wordpress.com)