x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

FA Cup: Chelsea take Manchester United back to blue corner after 2-2 draw

If United are to win the FA Cup, they will have to do it the hard way, writes Richard Jolly. Plus, details of the FA Cup semi-final draw.

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea denies Demba Ba, left, but Chelsea managed to force a replay with a draw. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea denies Demba Ba, left, but Chelsea managed to force a replay with a draw. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

MANCHESTER // There will not be a treble. Now, perhaps, there won't even be a double. Three could become one for Manchester United after the worst six days of their season.

Comebacks tend to be savoured at Old Trafford but not the last two.

First Real Madrid recovered from a goal down to eliminate them from the Champions League.

Now Chelsea, two goals down, staged an improbable recovery to earn a replay at Stamford Bridge and, perhaps, assume the status of favourites to meet Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals.

If United are to win the FA Cup, they will have to do it the hard way.

Remarkably Chelsea's fightback almost yielded a winner, David de Gea making a terrific last-minute save to deny Juan Mata and nervously parrying Eden Hazard's injury-time effort.

The Belgian was the catalyst for the turnaround, emerging from the bench to score a magnificent goal.

Yet, if few at Old Trafford were likely to accept it, the much-derided Rafael Benitez played his part, too. He changed the game with a double substitution. Perhaps, too, he changed the destiny of this season's FA Cup.

The fear for Chelsea was that United's Champions League exit would render them more dangerous. So it looked when, after 11 minutes, United were two goals to the good.

The first was glorious. There can be a deceptive menace to Michael Carrick's passing. With stately elegance and acute precision, the Englishman chipped a pass over the Chelsea defence.

With Petr Cech caught in no-man's land, Javier Hernandez looped his header over the goalkeeper.

While he is rarely granted a start against elite opposition, it extended the Mexican's excellent record when United face Chelsea. His debut came against the Londoners and, stumbling as he fell, he contrived to net one of the lowest of headers, to set a scoring precedent in unlikely fashion. He has now struck in the last four meetings of the two clubs.

One striker was soon joined on the score sheet by the other. Wayne Rooney's curling free kick was more cross than shot but, with Demba Ba and Jonny Evans leaping and missing it, David Luiz applying the faintest of touches and a flat-footed Cech slow to react, it went straight in.

Dropped against Real Madrid, Rooney's return to the team seemed a happy one. No sooner had he struck than he turned towards the Stretford End, accepting the acclaim. Whatever his long-term future - and while Sir Alex Ferguson is adamant he is going nowhere, there are reasons to doubt him - he remains cemented in their affections.

Both could have had more goals. Hernandez, with a first-time flick from Nani's cross, fired wide. Rooney, with a sidefooted shot when picked out by Patrice Evra, aimed straight at Cech, who had to be rather more acrobatic to spare teammate David Luiz an own goal.

"We could have been 4-0 up after 25 minutes," Ferguson said. "But we ran out of legs. Our two full-backs are just knackered, the two centre midfielders tired badly and they were by far the better team in the second half.

"The intensity of Tuesday night was taking its toll on some of the players."

Yet Chelsea played on Thursday and they rallied.

And yet, while the cliche about 2-0 being a dangerous lead is often incorrect, United's inability to add a third goal proved crucial.

Chelsea had threatened little in the first half but there were hints of their ability. Frank Lampard came closest, directing a chip at De Gea when he could have had his 200th Chelsea goal, but his removal brought a chant, aimed at Benitez, of "you don't know what you're doing."

So it was a welcome moment of vindication for the unwanted interim manager when, six minutes later, one of the men introduced halved the deficit.

Hazard lent much-needed invention and, soon, a goal. The Belgian curled a glorious shot past De Gea. His example and energy proved infectious.

The ever industrious Ramires surged forward, taking Hazard's pass and finishing. Then, incredibly, they could have won it. Victory was not secured but a point was nevertheless proved.

"This was a day to be proud of our team," said Mata.


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