Goals by Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero help Manchester City hold off Chelsea to reach the FA Cup final, where Wigan Athletic await. Jonathan Wilson reports.
FA Cup: Chelsea are left floored by Manchester City
MANCHESTER CITY 2
Chelsea Ba 65’
Man City Nasri 34’, Aguero 46’
Man of the match Gareth Barry (Manchester City)
London // A team can keep dragging forward their exhausted muscles only so long.
In a pulsating, thrilling encounter, a game of chances and controversy, of bruising fouls and almost incessant attacking, Chelsea's shattering season eventually caught up with them.
This was their 61st game of the season and, although they stood toe-to-toe with Manchester City in the final half-hour, trading blow for blow, by then they were already 2-0 down.
They simply did not have the energy to take City over the full game and, against a team in such good form as the Premier League champions, there could be only one outcome.
Rafa Benitez, the Chelsea manager, to his credit, refused to blame fatigue. If that was the reason for Chelsea's poor start, he said, "then you cannot explain how you finish so strong, you have to give credit to City - they're a strong team technically and physically".
"We can be disappointed for the Premier League," he said. "I think we had a chance to win the Premier League if we'd worked well last summer. We didn't.
"We made some mistakes. Now we are a good team. We know this, and when we play in the FA Cup we want to win the final. Everyone can think we are favourite for this game, but in 90 minutes anything can happen.
"Wigan, we know, play good football."
City enjoyed an element of luck while opening the scoring, Cesar Azpilicueta's challenge striking Nasri and falling kindly for the Frenchman to knock a calm finish past Petr Cech.
That the ball even came to Nasri was the result of Chelsea's sloppiness. As Yaya Toure cruised from halfway, nobody went to close him down and when they did, he had the wit to nudge the ball square to Aguero, who laid it off to Nasri. Brought about by sloppiness and a hint of fortune, it may have been, but it was a goal City fully deserved after a first half in which Chelsea had looked horribly flat - the weariness of their exertions in three competitions perhaps finally catching up with them.
Only a superb reflex save low to his right from Cech had denied Aguero, while the Argentinian and James Milner had both squandered other presentable opportunities.
Aguero did finally score a second two minutes into the second half, drifting in front of Azpilicueta - lacking decisiveness again - to head Barry's cross past Cech and in off the far post.
"We talked at half time about having more character in possession but conceded early in the second half," Benitez said. Given how fatigued Chelsea had appeared, the game seemed over at that point but Fernando Torres has a strange catalysing effect on his side these days. He had been on the pitch a matter of seconds and had not even touched the ball when Chelsea pulled one back - and so denied City the possibility of being the first team since Everton in 1966 to reach the Cup final without conceding a goal.
Not that Torres could really claim credit, Demba Ba flicking up a long forward pass from David Luiz and acrobatically volleying in off the far post.
In the quarter-hour that followed, Costel Pantilimon made a superbly timed challenge to deny Juan Mata and then beat away a close-range effort from Demba Ba. David Luiz wafted a free-kick just wide.
And when the clear chances stopped the controversy began.
Aguero, having gone shoulder to shoulder with David Luiz, was incredibly fortunate to escape a red card for a two-footed lunge that ended up connecting with the Brazilian's backside, and Torres probably should have had a penalty when his shirt was tugged by Vincent Kompany.
"You have to give credit to them but these decisions make a big difference," Benitez said.
He acknowledged, however, that Chelsea had not been shown the energy to compete across 90 minutes.
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