Manchester City will return to Wembley for the second time in three years, as they defeated the reigning FA Cup champions Chelsea.
Roberto Mancini made two changes to the side that defeated Manchester United earlier in the week. Costel Pantilimon returned to his FA Cup duties, as Joe Hart started on the bench. David Silva was unavailable as he picked up a knock in the derby game, which meant Sergio Aguero started upfront. Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and James Milner played behind the Argentinian striker, while Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry played in midfield.
Rafa Benitez made seven changes to the side that lost to Rubin Kazan midweek in the Europa League. Demba Ba led the line, while Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard played behind him. John Obi Mikel joined Ramires in the midfield, while Ryan Bertrand and Branislav Ivanovic joined the back four.
It was a game of two halves, in which City capitalized on Chelsea’s defensive errors, but their complacency allowed Chelsea back into the match.
City was the better side in the first half, and the way they pressed was pivotal to their dominance. City opted to press the midfield, and allow Ivanovic and Luiz time on the ball. This was a bit odd, because Luiz is one of the better distributors in the Chelsea squad, but nonetheless they were forced to spray long balls across the pitch. Most of the balls played from the back were unsuccessful, and when they attempted to play balls into the midfield, Barry and Toure were quick to close down Mikel and Ramires.
Chelsea approached the match in a similar manner to their league encounter at the Ethiad Stadium. It could’ve been based on the fact that it was quite effective, or that they were fatigued from their trip to Moscow midweek. Chelsea allowed Nemanja Nastasic and Vincent Kompany time on the ball, while Mata stepped closer to the City midfielder who dropped deeper to receive the ball. Barry and Toure took turns in doing this, and Mata’s half-hearted pressing was ineffective.
It’s still a mystery as to whether Mata is instructed to press the deep lying midfielders, or stay up the pitch to help launch possible counters. For all the positives Mata provides going forward, the Spanish midfielder rarely performs his defensive duties. To no surprise, Mata’s inability to close down Toure allowed the Ivorian to push forward and supply Nasri the pass that led to the first goal. Mata failed to track Toure’s powerful run, and no other player got close to the City midfielder.
Like the Chelsea centre backs, Kompany and Nastasic found it difficult to connect with Aguero. Aguero had one chance where he peeled off Luiz and collected Kompany’s pass, but Ivanovic’s last-ditch challenge, blocked the Argentinian’s shot.
Chelsea’s cautious approach
Chelsea sat in two narrow banks of four prior to conceding their second goal, which allowed City to dominate. Benitez played Oscar on the left to help Bertrand contain Milner and the advancing Pablo Zabaleta, while Hazard’s presence pegged Gael Clichy back, as the Belgian looked to exploit space behind Nasri.
Chelsea faced two problems going forward; the first problem was that they failed to get enough men forward on the counter, and when they did it was at a slow tempo. They allowed City’s midfielders to get in front of the ball and back into their shape, and Benitez’ men struggled to create chances.
Secondly, Ba was isolated, and Kompany and Nastasic dealt with the Senegalese striker easily. Chelsea sat deep in the midfield, and when Chelsea won the ball back, they failed to connect with Ba. Ba caused City’s defence a few scares, as balls were played over the top in which he got into dangerous areas, but the Senegalese striker was starved of service.
Manchester City possess the best striker duo in the league, but we’ve been unable to see them play together this season due to Aguero’s reoccurring injuries, and Mancini’s concern about defending set pieces. Nevertheless, the leagues best striker paired up with Tevez today, and they caused the Chelsea defenders nightmares.
The Argentinian duo was lively in the first half, as they constantly found space in between the lines to pick up the ball. The distance between the backline and Ramires and Mikel, was far too large, and the City strikers took turns dropping deeper to receive the ball. When Chelsea eventually grew into the game, the duo found more space, and received balls behind Chelsea’s midfield to break on the counter.
Aguero made runs into the left channel and often linked up with Tevez. Although, Tevez didn’t have his best game, his movement off the ball opened up space for Aguero to run into. Aguero loves to make darting runs behind defenders, and Ivanovic and Luiz struggled to cope with the Argentine striker. Aguero made these runs several times throughout the match, and it led to City’s second goal. Barry’s cross found the City striker in the second half, as Aguero peeled behind Ivanovic and Cech could only watch the Argentine’s header fly into the net.
City complacent – Pantilimon
Mancini’s men took their foot off the gas, when Aguero increased their lead, and it allowed Chelsea back into the match. Their pressing dropped, which allowed Mikel and Ramires to pick up the ball from deep areas and start plays. This pegged City back, and although they looked threatening on the break, they lacked quality in the final third.
City dropped deeper and deeper, and they relied on Pantilimon’s great save to deny Ba from six yards out. The Romanian goalkeeper also made a vital interception, to prevent Mata from rounding him, and equalizing the game. City defended until the final whistle, because they looked to preserve their lead, opposed to pushing forward to increase it.
Benitez decided to bring on Torres for Mikel when Chelsea grew into the game, and the Chelsea manager’s change paid off. Seconds after being introduced, Torres’ run caused the City defenders to allow the ball to drop and Ba acrobatically put the ball into the net. Nastasic and Kompany dealt with long balls easily as it was often 2v1, but Torres’ run dragged Kompany and he mistimed his header, allowing Ba to take his chance.
Torres played on the left, while Hazard stuck on the right, but found himself drifting to the left and Torres moving forward, towards the end of the match. Oscar played alongside Ramires in an attacking minded duo, and this left space for Azpilicueta to advance in, but the Spaniards deliveries were quite poor. Hazard and Mata dropped deeper into central areas to pick up the ball freely, and this provided Mata with space to have an impact on the game . Torres was also involved in a penalty shout, which was denied, when replays showed that Kompany was tugging on Torres’ shirt and it prevented him from being clear on goal.
Mancini introduced Javi Garcia for Tevez for more defensive cover in the midfield, and Toure pushed forward behind Aguero. Toure and Aguero received chances on the break, as Chelsea pushed number forwards, but the City players lacked the final ball. Lescott replaced Nasri to add more defensive cover, and City was able to hold on until the final whistle.
Manchester City was worthy winners on the day, and will take on Wigan in the final 27 days from now. Mancini will be upset that his side allowed Chelsea back into the match, but they capitalized on Chelsea’s mistakes and now have a legitimate chance of claiming silverware this season. Victories against Chelsea and United in the span of 6 days will look good on Mancini, and although City conceded their first goal of the competition, they remain undefeated in the FA Cup when Tevez is in the lineup.
Once again Chelsea’s cautious approach is unsuccessful against City, as the Blues fail to retain their coveted FA Cup crown. Although they were denied a penalty, and Aguero should have been sent off, their performance in the opening 50 minutes was poor. Benitez fails to add the FA Cup to his CV, but he still has the Europa League to focus on, along with getting his side into a Champions League position.
City was the better side for majority of the match, as Chelsea struggled to create chances, and only improved when City took their foot off the gas and Benitez introduced Torres.
1. Sergio Aguero
2. Yaya Toure
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