In this topsy turvy F.A Cup Quarter Final, Chelsea finally gave their fans something to cheer about by coming back from a 2 goal deficit to earn a well deserved replay back at the Bridge.
The Blues could not ask for a more perfect tonic for recent woes than reversing a 2-0 halftime score in Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s back garden.
After a nightmare start at the Theater of dreams, the Blues displayed the type of never say die attitude reminiscent of last year’s Champions League campaign.
In the end Manchester United were happy to take a draw. Only the heroics of their often criticized Keeper De Gea kept them in the competition.
There were many positives to be garnered from today’s Chelsea performance, even Rafa Bentitez got in on the act with a couple of inspired substitutions before his normally in-stone 60th minute mark!
I believe we will look back on this performance as a watershed moment in The Blues 2013 season. With Spurs losing too, just to put whipped cream on the cake, today’s confidence building display hopefully leads to an extended run of form in the latter stages of this seasons Premier League. The prize being CL qualification via the coveted 3rd spot.
Another noteworthy point from today’s performance is that the rally took place without JT or Super Frank on the pitch. We know the team is in transition and the more we are able to rest or phase out our “Golden Guard” the brighter our future will look.
In fact if we are to stand a chance of attracting the type of manager we crave, JT, Frank and other wielders of “player power” may find themselves scapegoated. We must be realistic in understanding all great things must come to an end. Rightly or wrongly this outcome looks to be unavoidable and casualties may be heavy.
As discussed in the last post about “Chelsea’s best teams”, Rafa dropped Terry to the bench in favor of Lampard leading the troops in an offensive formation.
Luis partnered Cahill, although I would prefer Ivanovich’s safe hands over the Brazilian when JT’s not there to shepherd.
Mata, Oscar and Moses played behind Demba ba with Ramires providing cover.
SAF also rang the changes. United’s squad is so deep that he bought in Rooney, Hernandez, Evans, Kagawa and Cleverly, none of whom were tainted by the defeat at the hands of Real Madrid. Ryan Giggs was given the day off to shop for a Zimmer frame and Van Persie sat on the bench.
The game started with all the frantic fun of the fair associated with a classic F.A Cup tie. United were 2 goals to the good before Rafa had finished sharpening his pencil.
Petr Cech had pulled too tight while putting on his protective headgear and stopped the flow of blood to his brain, resulting a couple of uncharacteristic slapstick errors. The first of which saw Hernandez sneak behind the defense with our keeper in no-mans-land, and float a looping header just under the bar over our Cech’s head.
A few minutes later Rooney’s free kick, an intended cross which turned into a shot, went all the way passed the crowd in the box and beat Cech into the far corner. Whoops. Rooney’s smile was evidence of the unintended outcome.
Blues fans would have been forgiven in wanting the game to end right then and there, ensuring the home side couldn’t rack up a cricket score.
Chelsea certainly had the better of the game once the second goal went in, but lacked any penetration once in the final third. Most of the Blues good work ended in a lost possession down the left hand side. Oscar was having a particularly hard afternoon. United hardly surprisingly sat back a little once 2-0 up. Although when they did venture out, they looked the more dangerous and likely to add to their lead at this stage.
The halftime whistle couldn’t have come sooner for the visitors. The game was not over and after giving away two early goals they had stopped the rot. They lived to fight the second half.
The turning point in the game came 7 minutes after the break. Benitez in a rare showing of some kahunas, withdrew both Frank Lampard and Victor Moses in favor of Hazard and Mikel. Super Frank gave his manager the eye while trudging off , letting the whole world know what he thought of that decision. It proved an inspired move by Rafa.
The last third of the game saw Chelsea dominate in every department leaving the home side stunned into submission.
Mikel should be singled out for a tremendous performance worthy of the Man-of the Match award. He did not let anything thru the midfield and his forward distribution was also excellent.
Hazard also relished his early appearance. The “best in class” triumvirate of Mata, Oscar and the Belgian was too hot for United to handle.
Hazard got one back on 59 minutes, curling a stunning 20 yard shot past De Gea into the right hand corner. Game on.
10 minutes later the Blues were level. No-one could argue they didn’t deserve it. Ramires finished off a tremendous counter attacking move , when after breaking through Manchester’s midfield he carried the ball into the area and slotted home past the diving De Gea.
Chelsea had the home team on the rack. Wave after wave of attacks on the United goal. The best of the chances fell to Mata, who was back to his best in this game. After taking down a cross with a deft touch, he spun losing his defender and shot toward the left hand corner. Only the laces on De Gea right boot prevented the Blues snatching a famous victory. The Spanish Keeper is beginning to repay SAF’s faith in him, when others doubted.
This Chelsea team, including the manager, will wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed and hungry to get back on the pitch. Today’s draw will be seen as a positive result for more reasons than just extending our FA Cup journey. It looked like we were being dethroned of another crown before the gritty stage, but our soldiers drew a line in the sand and showed some serious metal.
Onwards and Upwards.
Oh yes, P.S …Torres came on for Ba with enough time for a lame effort or two.