N’Golo Kante scored against Manchester United again to book our place in the FA Cup semi-finals and ensure a club-record 13th straight victory at Stamford Bridge in all competitions.
Kante’s second Chelsea goal, fired hard and low from outside the box shortly after the interval, proved sufficient to overcome a Manchester United side that had only lost once since the teams last met in October.
The visitors were reduced to 10 men in the first half, Ander Herrera the man dismissed for two crude fouls on the excellent Eden Hazard. Even before that red card we had forced David de Gea into a couple of outstanding saves.
Thibaut Courtois had a solitary stop to make, thwarting Marcus Rashford soon after Kante’s winner, but otherwise the Blues were dominant in terms of possession and chances created. Wembley, and a date with Tottenham, beckons!
The starting XI bore more resemblance to those selected by Antonio Conte in the league this season, rather than his Cup teams. There were two changes from last Monday’s win at West Ham, Willian and Nemanja Matic in for Pedro and Cesc Fabregas.
Despite pre-match talk United would be unable to call on a recognised striker, Rashford was well enough to start. Behind him were four defenders and five midfielders, though their set-up was certainly not rigid and designed to stop the width our 3-4-3 provides.
It was the visitors who supplied the first meaningful efforts on goal, a Marcos Rojo header over and a Henrikh Mkhitaryan shot wide in front of the Matthew Harding Stand the only moments of note in a cagey opening quarter-of-an-hour.
And then Eden Hazard came alive. Receiving the ball with his back to goal on halfway, he turned exquisitely past Chris Smalling before surging goalwards. Rojo was the next to be left in his wake, and in the end only a fingertip David de Gea save, low to his right, prevented a repeat of the Belgian’s Arsenal wonder goal.
The United keeper was at it again from the resulting corner, expertly clawing Gary Cahill’s close-range bouncing effort out. Smalling then cleared a fizzed Alonso cross away from the danger area with David Luiz ready to pounce.
The Blues were gathering a head of steam and had only been denied the opening goal by two world-class saves.
Hazard, drifting between the lines, was proving too hot to handle for those in red. Herrera barged into him off the ball and was booked, and then our brilliant Belgian fired over on his left at the end of another magical run.
Phil Jones then felled him twice in as many minutes near the touchline and earned a lengthy warning from referee Michael Oliver, with captain Chris Smalling by his side. So when play restarted and Herrera immediately scythed Hazard down, another yellow card was understandably brandished, followed by a red. Herrera had to go.
Mourinho responded by replacing Mkhitaryan with Marouane Fellaini as he faced up to the prospect of his side playing an hour, or maybe more, with 10 men.
The Cup tie had well and truly burst to life with plenty of passion on display on, and off, the pitch.
At half-time, Peter Houseman, a 1970 FA Cup and ’71 Cup Winners’ Cup winner, was remembered with the 40th anniversary of his tragic death in a car crash approaching. Two generations of Housemans were walked around the pitch to great applause.
The expectation once play resumed was that the Blues would have to be patient, but those of a Chelsea persuasion only had to wait six minutes before the deadlock was broken.
It came from an unlikely source, but perhaps not considering Kante’s only other Chelsea goal before tonight was against the same opposition, at the same venue. This effort was as spectacular as that slalom October strike, fired low and hard from a central 25-yard position. It flew into De Gea’s bottom-right corner, and had to have been struck well to beat him from there.
Rashford could and probably should have equalised on the hour having escaped the attentions of first David Luiz and then Cahill, but Thibaut Courtois – previously untested – stood his ground and diverted the ball over. It was to prove a crucial save.
Down the other end, Willian had a volley blocked at the conclusion of an exciting counter-attack. An unmarked Diego Costa headed the subsequent corner wide.
Willian was increasingly influential and clearly wanted a goal to show for it, whistling narrowly over, and then forcing De Gea to punch out. A wonderful low cross from the braided no.22 was close to being turned in by Diego Costa with 20 minutes remaining.
It was his last significant contribution before Fabregas took his place, and Hazard moved further upfield alongside Diego Costa.
The Blues saw out the closing stages in relative comfort, clearing a couple of hopeful United crosses and nearly adding a second in stoppage time through Fabregas.
In the end, though, Kante’s goal was enough. ‘Que sera, sera…’
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses (Zouma 88), Kante, Matic, Alonso; Willian (Fabregas 81), Diego Costa (Batshuayi 90+4), Hazard.
Unused subs Begovic, Terry, Chalobah, Pedro.
Scorer Kante 51
Booked Diego Costa 87
Man Utd (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Smalling (c), Rojo, Darmian; Valencia, Herrera, Pogba, Young (Lingard 81); Mkhitaryan (Fellaini 37); Rashford.
Unused subs Romero, Bailly, Blind, Carrick, Mata.
Booked Herrera 20, Young 78
Sent off Herrera 35 (second yellow)
Referee Michael Oliver