Man Utd 2-2 Chelsea: Second Half Stunner Keeps Blues’ Cup Dream Alive
Chelsea staged a remarkable second half comeback in an FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford, scoring twice to level the scores and force the tie into a replay.
Manchester United looked well on their way to a trip to Wembley, taking an early lead through Javier Hernandez whose looping header beat Petr Cech inside five minutes. Wayne Rooney- restored to the starting line up having been benched for the midweek Champions League defeat to Real Madrid- doubled his side’s lead with a free-kick that evaded a crowd of bodies to nestle in the far corner.
Chelsea had been inept in the first half despite enjoying much of the possession but Rafael Benitez rallied his troops and his side came out all guns blazing to level the tie through substitute Eden Hazard and Ramires. Benitez brought in a number of first team regulars after deploying a somewhat weaker team to face Steaua Bucharest in Romania on Thursday, however there was no place for club captain John Terry; the Spaniard opting for Gary Cahill and David Luiz as his central defensive duo.
But that decision appeared to have backfired instanly as Man Utd stormed into an early lead. The goal owed as much to the vision of Michael Carrick, whose long ball in to the area was met by Hernandez- the Mexican looping his header expertly over Cech who was not sure if he should come or stay. Chelsea appeared disjointed at the back and their efforts in front of goal left a lot to be desired.
And things only got worse for the visitors as they fell further behind to a Rooney free-kick on 11 minutes. Chelsea fans will feel more should have been done to prevent the ball travelling almost uninterrupted as it floated a long way, bouncing on its way into the net. A crowd of bodies may have blocked Cech’s view of the flight of the ball, but the Czech international should also feel he may have done better.
With Man Utd firmly on top, and looking dangerous with each attack, Chelsea looked like 11 men who had played little football together; so lacking in creativity in that final third. United were happy to let the Blues take possession, whilst breaking quickly with speed, flair and fluidity whenever a Chelsea move broke down. And Rooney almost added to his tally after such a counter-attack just before half time.
Patrice Evra did well to pull the ball back from the left hand side, and Rooney’s first time effort was well saved by the legs of Cech. But the danger was still apparent, and David Luiz in his desperate attempt to clear the ball directed his header goal-wards, prompting a fine reflex save from Cech who reacted just in time to tip a certain own-goal over the bar.
Chelsea’s best opportunity among a hat full of stray passes and wayward crosses fell to Lampard as Victor Moses played the ball across goal. So often we have seen the England midfielder rifle home from that position, but his first time effort was straight down the throat of David de Gea.
It looked as though things could only get worse for the Blues even after the chance to re-group at half-time. But to the Spaniard’s credit, Benitez identified the problem and made the substitutions that would change the game. Although they were changes that were not immediately popular with the Blue section of Old Trafford, as they barked out a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing”.
Hazard and John Obi Mikel came on for Moses and Lampard, and it was the Belgian who made an instantaneous impact, curling a wonderful effort past a helpless de Gea with an hour played, giving Chelsea an FA Cup lifeline. Suddenly it was the visitors who had the impetus whilst Sir Alex Ferguson’s men began to tire, as was expected after playing most of their Champions League tie on Tuesday with only 10 men.
Robin van Persie was introduced for the Red Devils in an attempt to spark some life into the flagging red-shirts, but the tie was soon level. Oscar broke after a United attack had collapsed, and the Brazilian midfielder found his compatriot Ramires in space on the right. Utterly composed, the Brazilian took a touch to bring him inside before coolly slotting into the far corner.
The turn-around was near complete with just minutes to go as Juan Mata looked to clinch the tie and book Chelsea a semi-final place but de Gea did well to save with his legs. Despite the whistle blowing before the Blues could grab a third, Benite’sz side will take much encouragement from a remarkable second half comeback and will feel confident going into the replay at Stamford Bridge next week.
Considering Chelsea looked down-and-out with barely 10 minutes played in this tie, the team and the manager deserve much credit for the manner in which they turned this one around. And whilst league form continues in it’s patchy vein, Blues fans can at least dream of cup glory and the hope that they can retain the trophy they won last year.
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