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.
EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho
“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”
Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.
Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.
Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.
Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).
What they’re saying
Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement: “He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”
Clement on staring down Chelsea: “I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”
Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.