Its Chelsea Who Have The Last Laugh…Its Chelsea 5 Manchester United 4 (AET)

Chelsea erased three deficits before beating Manchester United 5-4 after extra time in a tense and exciting match at Stamford Bridge. The result, which came one day after Arsenal’s wild 7-5 win at Reading in the same competition, sent Chelsea into the quarterfinals for the second straight season.

More than that, it served as a bit of revenge for the Blues, who just three days earlier lost 3-2 to United in a highly controversial match at the same venue. Chelsea had two players sent off in that match, and Javier Hernandez’s winner was later shown to be offside.

With that as the backdrop, Wednesday’s match had plenty to live up to. It delivered with nine goals, nine bookings, 43 fouls and 50—50 shots.

The visitors looked like they were destined to head home with the win leading 3 – 2 until Ramires was brought down for a penalty in the 92nd minute by 21-year-old Scott Wootton, a decision Alex Ferguson could not complain about. Eden Hazard demonstrated a cool head, sliding in the spot kick to send the tie into extra time.

The next 30 minutes seemed more like a basketball match as each side took it in turns to rapidly counter. Chelsea broke the deadlock after a speculative long ball from Hazard was weakly headed into the path of Daniel Sturridge by Wootton. The England striker made no mistake as he was sent clear through, rounding Anders Lindegaard and tapping into an empty net. It certainly was a relief for the Chelsea forward as he had been profligate in front of goal during normal time.

In the second half of extra time, Chelsea appeared to have put the game to bed after another counterattack which witnessed the twinkle-toed Hazard dance past United’s defence and play in Ramires, who rounded the keeper in a similar fashion to Sturridge. Chelsea were walking the ball into the net. Veteran midfielder Ryan Giggs made it a nervy finale for the home fans, duly accepting the invitation to score from the spot after referee Lee Mason judged Cesar Azpilicueta had fouled Javier Henandez. Yet Chelsea batted away the last few seconds of aerial bombardment to avoid further drama of a penalty shootout.

The opening exchanges of the match were tentative – United passed the ball more slickly, and pressured the home team by pressing high up the pitch. The tactic paid dividends in the 21st minute when Petr Cech took a goal-kick short to Oriol Romeu, who dawdled on the ball and was dispossessed by the excellent Anderson, enabling Giggs to have all the time in the world to pick his spot and score.

Chelsea levelled proceedings 10 minutes later, thanks to kamikaze defending from full-back Alexander Buttner, who conceded a stone-wall penalty by bringing down Victor Moses. Brazilian centre-back David Luiz powered the resultant 12 yarder into the bottom left-hand corner.

Luiz then played the villain when he went for one of his trademark forays up the field and lost possession. The ball fell to Anderson who had the vision to pick out an immaculate through ball to Hernandez; the Mexican demonstrated why he is one of the most lethal finishers in the game by expertly taking the ball in his stride and clinically striking home past the onrushing Cech.

Chelsea went into the break having only themselves to blame for being behind. Jon Obi Mikel, who was a surprise starter considering the spectre of race allegations from last Sunday’s match, did not reappear for the next 45 and was replaced by Ramires. A Juan Mata corner in the 52nd minute was headed in by Gary Cahill, the linesman correctly awarded the goal, for Rafael’s acrobatic leap almost, but not quite, prevented the ball from going over the line.

A moment of pure beauty was witnessed in the 59th minute when United’s attack sliced open the London club’s rearguard. Anderson made it a hat-trick of assists, playing an intelligent one-two with Nani – the Portuguese international raced clear and dinked a delightful chip over the confounded Cech. It was a pulsating match of football, exhibiting the game at its best. In addition, the officials enjoyed a night of getting the big calls right.

 “Tonight was a typical cup game, quite open, and I thought that we played very well. We had a lot of chances as well. I thought that we could have finished off the game much earlier than we did. And also we’ve shown once again what fantastic character that these boys have to come back three times from behind. It’s not the first time. It’s a fantastic dressing room in there. They never give up. We’ve showed it tonight and we showed it on Sunday as well when we went down to nine men.”   -Robert Di Matteo

Chelsea now face a quarter-final tie away to Leeds and it is one the manager believes will be a challenge. RDM said: “Playing away from home is very difficult and Leeds and Chelsea have a bit of history as well so it will be a tough game.”

HIGHLIGHTS: – Extended Highlights

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