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.
Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win
Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.
The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).
Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.
Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.
On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).
Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.
The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.
“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.
“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”
Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.