After narrowly defeating Sunderland at the weekend, Manchester United travelled to London to face Chelsea in their FA Cup replay, 48 hours later. After giving up a 2 goal lead the first time round, Sir Alex Ferguson hoped his side would not pass up the opportunity at the second time of asking, and progress to face Manchester City in the semi final.
David De Gea started in goal, with Chris Smalling this time partnering Rio Ferdinand at centre back. At left back, Patrice Evra returned and Valencia took place on the right. In midfield, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Nani and Phil Jones made up the quartet with Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck up front.
The first half was a scoreless affair that did not live up to the hype surrounding such fixtures. With both sides taking a tentative approach to play and failing to test the goalkeepers early on, observers hoped it would pick up as the game wore on. One notable point was when United were quick on the counter, with Nani on the ball and Hernandez in space, the opportunity was there for a chance on goal, only for his pass to be too late and inaccurate to be of any use.
Ba forced De Gea into a save at the half hour mark after good play from Hazard and Hernandez was thwarted by Cech’s feet after being found by a De Gea’s kick.
The second half began with a bang as Mata played a pass over to Ba who shifted and volleyed outstretched over a helpless De Gea to give his side a 1-0 lead in skillful fashion. United tried for a response and with just under an hour played, Welbeck played in a superb cross from the right, met by Hernandez at the far end, with Cech getting his hand out as he dived to get it over the bar in what seemed destined for goal.
Soon after, Cleverley made way for Van Persie and Nani departed for Giggs, as Jones moved to right back. Hazard had a chance to put the game beyond the visitors, but put his effort wide with just the keeper to beat. United pressed for a way back into the game, but the home side looked difficult to break down.
With tiring legs evident, United pushed for the equaliser. Van Persie had the best of the final chances, but Chelsea held on and with it, progress to the semi finals of the FA Cup.
For United, the Premier League is their remaining competition, one in which they find themselves in a comfortable position, needing to keep building up the points and getting the job done as the season concludes. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Awkward scheduling made for a poor game
Bar a few moments of brilliance, especially Ba’s finish for the winning goal, it would be fair to say the FA Cup tie was poor. With both sides having played only 48 hours earlier and with plenty on the line both sides struggled to come into their own in the opening exchanges. The end of the first half and the beginning of the second showed signs of life, but ultimately it felt as though the match did not have the feel of an FA Cup tie, lacking the excitement that such games often display. Perhaps it was the time as well as the stakes, but for the neutral, it may not have been the highest quality that one might have expected.
2) Chelsea deserved victory
Despite my feelings about the game’s quality, I would argue that Chelsea were the better side and ultimately deserved victory. United set up their downfall from the moment they allowed their two goal advantage to get cancelled out in the original match, passing up their big opportunity. On this occasion, although they not outplayed, Chelsea looked the more threatening. Ba’s finish was superb and Hazard went close. Hernandez tested Cech twice but in all United’s attacks simply did not come together particularly effectively in what was a flat performance at times.
3) Champion’s League hangover?
One must wonder with the last couple of performances whether or not the Champion’s League disappointment has lingered longer than it should have. The last couple of games have been less than convincing since then, and with the likes of Van Persie feeling the effects of a full season’s work, United could use some rejuvenation. As mentioned previously, the full use of the squad is necessary at this point to see the season through. Hernandez could use more starts given his effectiveness this season and after Carrick played two matches in quick succession, it seems he could use a short rest.
Of course it would be daft to proclaim United’s season has been derailed given their continuing success in the league this season, but given the nature of the Champion’s League exit and the way in which a lead was squandered at Old Trafford, there will certainly be some disappointment among fans and players, with Sir Alex particularly keen to have a good showing in the Cup having not had success in it since 2004.
4) The wings – a continuing source of frustration
It would be safe to say many fans are very much looking forward to the arrival of fresh talent in Zaha this summer given the struggles of United’s wide men this season. On Monday, Valencia started at right back, in all having a better game than he has done recently but was still evidently short of confidence as he pushed further on up the field. Nani was frustratingly ineffective, capable of producing something but ultimately lacking the final product. Young was decent after his introduction and could yet come into greater effect as United look to wrap up the title.
One thing is for sure though, the wings are in need of some competition, and this summer that could well be the case.
5) One trophy left, the league still within grasp
Despite this disappointment, one must remember that United find themselves in an incredibly advantageous position with regards to the league. What remains now, is for the side to do the job at hand, professionally handling the remaining games to win the title at the nearest opportunity. The next game is the Manchester derby, a chance to put further day light between United and their closest rivals. Due to be played next Monday night it will undoubtedly be met with the same excitement, tension and hype that typically surrounds these games. It will be one to look forward to.