On Monday night at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United set out to literally take out the home side’s major threat in Eden Hazard. Led by former Chelsea manager José Mourinho, they went to work on constantly fouling and harassing Hazard, a tactic that Mourinho often bemoaned during his time at the club.
However, referee Michael Oliver, who was very lenient overall, decided to punish Ander Herrera with a yellow card in the 20th minute and a second one in the 35th. While Chelsea had been playing well, after the Spanish midfielder was sent off, the Blues dominated the rest of the match in all phases (though it stayed close on the scoreboard).
Reduced to being an observer for most of the game, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was that his teammates did not fall for United’s underhanded tactics and mind games.
"They came with a plan which was to put [Phil] Jones and [Matteo] Darmian on Willian and Eden, so it was hard to find space, but after we did they made a lot of fouls. They were very hard and played in the style of Mourinho."
"I think Ander Herrera paid the price for his team-mates because before that Jones made the fifth foul on Eden and if 10 seconds later you make another foul, the ref must give a yellow card. Unfortunately for Herrera he already had a yellow."
"They tried, with fouling and kicking, to destabilise us. They were the 'mind games' they tried to play, which they got from their manager. We didn’t fall into that trap, we played our game, our way, like we have for the last few months. Unfortunately we couldn’t score again and finish the game earlier but it’s good to go to Wembley with ambitions to reach the final and win it."
While Chelsea out-shot Manchester United 20-4, N'Golo Kanté's unlikely goal early in the second half proved to be the only difference. Courtois himself was called into action on one of the rare chances for the visitors, making a great save on Marcus Rashford to preserve Chelsea’s advantage.
"I feel good, I think I’m having a very good season and in a game like that, where I don’t think I even had one save to make in the beginning, you have to be ready. I was ready for that moment, it was a crucial save."
"When you are attacking so much you always have to take care because [Marcus Rashford] is fast and you have to think your team-mate can make a mistake. When he went one-on-one with [Gary] Cahill you know there is a possibility he could pass him and shoot, so I was ready to see if he went on his left or right and I was in a good position, I was good on my feet and made the save."
Next up for Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals will be Tottenham at Wembley, our third meeting this season with the teams both winning their home games in the league against each other. Now, in the semi-neutral ground that soon both teams could be temporarily calling home, it will be winner take all for a spot in the final.
"We beat them at home and they beat us away. They’re a top side and it’s nice for the English league to see four top teams in the semi-finals, I don’t think that’s happened in the last few years so it will be a tough game for us. We are on a good run and we want to reach the final."
-Thibaut Courtois; source: Chelsea FC