After Rafa Benitez named a fairly weak starting eleven on Saturday afternoon, there was very little doubt that we'd be seeing a fairly strong lineup on Monday against Manchester United. There were no surprises from interim today, as there was a case to be made that the lineup today was our strongest possible starting eleven*.
*Branislav Ivanovic is certainly debatable, but that's probably the only position where an argument could be easily made
The opening 45 minutes of the contest were quiet, with very few chances created by either side. Chelsea began the match pressing the ball fairly high up the pitch, a tactic that worked wonders against United at Old Trafford. Neither team took too many risks though, with both sides generally willing to keep their midfielders and fullbacks at home instead of opening up space for the opposition to attack.
Before either team really threatened to open the scoring, Chelsea were forced into a change. Ashley Cole pulled up along the sideline with a hamstring injury, one which immediately saw Ryan Bertrand enter the game. After the game, Rafa Benitez confirmed that Cole will be missing some time, meaning Bertrand will now have a run of games to show what he can do. The picture behind Bertrand gets a bit cloudy though, as none of David Luiz, Nathan Ake, or Paulo Ferreira make me all that comfortable.
Chelsea were the first side to really settle into the match, having a decent spell of pressure around the half-hour mark. Juan Mata set up Demba Ba for a decent chance from the right side, and Ba forced David de Gea into a quality save with his feet. Chelsea wasted a few free kicks in dangerous positions, while Eden Hazard nearly crafted another goal out of nothing.
United also created a pair of decent opportunities from distance, with Nani rolling one wide and Javier Hernandez nearly catching Petr Cech diving the wrong way. Cech managed to read the curve on the ball after diving to his left, and managed to kick the ball away to safety to keep the game scoreless.
The second half saw no changes to either side, but Chelsea quickly made a change to the score. Juan Mata had been having one of his quieter games in a Chelsea shirt, but took advantage of one of the few moments of free time he was given with the ball at his feet. He picked out Demba Ba getting an excellent run on Rio Ferdinand, and fired a 40-yard pass over the top of the defense.
Even after the run and the pass, there was still a bunch of work to be done. David de Gea had read the ball fairly well, and had positioned himself well enough that bringing the ball down for a second touch was never going to be an option. Only a stunning volley would be enough to beat the keeper, and fortunately, Demba Ba abides:
Just like that it was 1-0 Chelsea, and United were forced to take some risks. There were more decent chances for Chelsea, with both Ba and Ramires narrowly missing chances to double the lead.
Danny Welbeck and Hernandez would combine to create the next big chance of the game. Fortunately for Chelsea, Petr Cech had one of his "wow" moments, and managed to tip the ball just over the bar to safety;
Chelsea had the next big opportunity, with Michael Carrick making a terrible pass and playing Eden Hazard through on goal. Hazard's shot went just wide of the post, and United soon made some attacking changes.
Robin van Persie came on for Tom Cleverley, and Ryan Giggs came on for Nani. The game began to open up, wit the attacking trio of Oscar, Hazard, and Mata beginning to look like a real threat to double the score.
Robin van Persie had a decent chances to draw the game level, but for the most part Chelsea were comfortable in dealing with United's attack. They continued to have the bulk of the good chances, and looked far more likely to add a second than they did conceding. Ashley Young came on for Welbeck, but the Blues continued to look comfortable.
With about five minutes to play, United had their second golden opportunity to find the back of the net. Patrice Evra crossed the ball to an unmarked van Persie, but RvP was less than clinical in volleying the ball over. A pair of time wasting substitutions later, the final whistle blew and Chelsea advanced to Wembley.
Awaiting the Blues next will be Manchester City, one of only two other teams to win an FA Cup since Wembley re-opened. That semifinal will be played April 14, meaning we'll be looking at postponing our tie against AVB and Tottenham Hotspur.