A superhuman volley by Demba Ba provided the necessary spice to an otherwise underwhelming FA Cup quarter-final replay between Chelsea and Manchester United.
Ba’s goal completed a fantastic comeback for the Blues, which began after Rafa Benitez’ side went down 2-0 in the initial tie on March 10th at Old Trafford. Chelsea clawed their way back into that match with second-half goals from Eden Hazard and Ramires. Monday’s 1-0 victory in the replay means the Blues will face Manchester City in Wembley on April 14th.
After this weekend’s league action where United defeated Sunderland 1-0 and Chelsea were beaten 2-1 by Southampton, both sides made seven changes to their starting lineups. For United, Wayne Rooney was absent with a groin injury while the holders started Ba and John Obi Mikel in place of Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard.
The first-half was an even-handed affair and United appeared to grab the upper hand when Chelsea were forced to bring on Ryan Bertrand for Ashley Cole, who succumbed to a hamstring problem. Eden Hazard provided much of the danger for Chelsea, even with Phil Jones dropping back from his midfield role to help Antonio Valencia contain the electric Belgian. For United, it was Javier Hernandez who looked most likely to score as he challenged Petr Cech with a swerving shot from outside the box and repeatedly put himself into dangerous positions, only to fail to convert.
Four minutes into the second-half and Chelsea got their goal. Juan Mata collected the ball from forty yards out and turned lofting an angelic curler into the box. Ba, anticipating the Spaniard’s service, slipped behind Rio Ferdinand’s right shoulder and took his diagonal run just right of the penalty spot. As the service dipped over Ba’s shoulder the Senegalese hitman threw his body forward and with his right leg raised four feet in the air, redirected the ball across David de Gea and into the top left corner. A ridiculous goal from a ridiculously talented player.
As the second half wore on both sides exchanged chances with Hernandez coming closest but Cech proved to be his reliable self and Chelsea marched on.
Leading up to the match Ba had only scored once in 11 competitions leading many to wonder whether the striker had what it takes to play at Chelsea. With rumors of Radamel Falcao or Edinson Cavani arriving in the summer and with Torres playing decently of late, it appeared Ba was quickly becoming surplus goods at the Bridge.
Those concerns abated (at least briefly) on Monday with the phenomenal redirection that reminded fans that when it comes to Demba Ba, anything is possible.
The game in 100 words (or less): Real Salt Lake stays alive in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Western Conference with a crucial 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids. After falling behind early, RSL scored twice before halftime and held onto the lead for the rest of the match, moving within three points of the final playoff spot in the West. Real Salt Lake has three matches remaining, including a massive clash against the Portland Timbers, which will pretty much decide their season. For Colorado, it’s another year without playoff soccer.
16′ — Doyle heads Colorado into the lead — The former Premier League man gave the home side an early lead, thanks to a powerful header from quite a bit out. Sean St. Ledger played in a cross, where Doyle snapped a header into the top corner past Nick Rimando.
33′ — Joao Plata bends in the free kick — Trailing 1-0, Joao Plata drew RSL level with a brilliant free kick. Plata’s shot dipped over the wall and under the crossbar, as Clint Irwin stood helpless in goal for Colorado.
43′ — Mulholland fires home a volley to put RSL ahead — Luke Mulholland scored his first goal of the season, and it was a beauty. A corner kick popped out to the midfielder at the top of the box, as he rifled a shot off the bounce and into the side netting.
Following the big 3-0 win at the Emirates, Wenger praised his team’s spirit, saying there were outstanding performances throughout the side.
You go from Petr Cech up to Theo Walcott, and we had only outstanding performances. Sometimes we have that magic side in our game.
[Against Olympiacos] maybe we lacked a little bit of urgency and discipline, and that’s why we lost the game. But let’s not forget, last Saturday we won 5-2 at Leicester. Today we beat Man United 3-0.
[The players] have shown that we have an outstanding spirit in the squad. To respond the way we did after what happened to us, you need to have an exceptional spirit.
The Gunners’ performance today immediately silenced all the critics, as Wenger’s side put out on a display that many have been waiting for all season. The combination play of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott was brilliant, as Santi Cazorla continued to impress in the center of the midfield.
Wenger’s teams have not always been known to show strong heart and resiliency, but that’s exactly what they showed today against a Manchester United side that was in great form. Now sitting second on the table, Arsenal continues to climb up the Premier League.