The Blues' defence of the Women's FA Cup came to an end at the semi-final stage, as an unfortunate own goal from Magdalena Eriksson in stoppage time condemned us to defeat after we had twice hit the woodwork.
There is rarely anything between two of the top clubs in the country, with both sides solid at the back and boasting quality attacking players, and so it proved once again as we met for the fourth time in the last four of this competition.
Having won the previous three, on the balance of play and opportunities created throughout a tense game it perhaps should have been four, as both Fran Kirby and Erin Cuthbert were denied the opening goal late on after hitting the woodwork. Those missed chances came back to haunt us with extra time looming, as Eriksson turned a cross past her own goalkeeper and Manchester City will now go on to face West Ham United in the final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 4 May.
For Emma Hayes and her squad, there is no time to dwell on this defeat, though, as we now face a two-legged Champions League semi-final against Lyon, with European glory our only hope of silverware in the closing weeks of the campaign.
A fortnight had passed since our last fixture, due to the international break, when we had drawn 1-1 with the Hammers at Kingsmeadow. The manager made five changes to her starting XI for that game, bringing in Ann-Katrin Berger, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle, Karen Carney and Kirby for Carly Telford, Jess Carter, Ali Riley, Ji So-Yun and Bethany England.
The manager sent her side out in an attacking 4-4-2 system, with a back four of Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Eriksson and Andersson lining up behind Cuthbert, Ingle, Drew Spence and Carney. Kirby and Bachmann, who between them scored our three goals in last year's final, rekindled their strike partnership.
Our attacking intent was evident from the first whistle, as we pressed high up the pitch and gave the City defence little opportunity to settle. That pressure almost paid off inside the opening three minutes, as a sliced clearance fell to Cuthbert who opted to shoot early when perhaps there was an opportunity to steady herself, firing straight into the midriff of Karen Bardsley.
An even better chance presented itself 10 minutes later and once again the home side were at fault with another misplaced pass, which opened up space for Bachmann. The Swiss ace unselfishly laid the ball through to Kirby and she brought the best out of Bardsley with a low finish that the keeper just about got a foot to, denying her England team-mate what looked to be a certain goal.
Chelsea fans who had made the trip up to Manchester on coaches laid on by the club were making themselves heard above the home support and those on the pitch were certainly enjoying the best of the first half-hour, too. While the bulk of City's possession was in their own half, the Blues were seeing plenty of the ball in the attacking third, aided by a number of set-pieces which allowed the pressure to build.
However, as we discovered in the Continental Tyres League Cup semi-final at Kingsmeadow earlier this year, City are always a threat on the counter and a reminder of that came as we entered the final 10 minutes of the opening half. Twice in quick succession they came close to the opener, firstly through a low drive from Georgia Stanway which past the far post, and then the ever-dangerous Nikita Parris almost took advantage of a moment's indecision by Eriksson and Berger, only to miss the target with her finish from a tight angle.
After a strong end to the opening 45 minutes, the home side continued to force us back in the early stages of the second half and Bright was called upon to make a vital intervention to keep out a goal-bound effort from Caroline Weir after a corner was flicked to her at the back post.
With attacking opportunities limited, Kirby visibly showed her frustration after she saw a shot blocked on the edge of the box and midfield back-up was nowhere to be seen. That sparked another shift in momentum, as suddenly the Blues were the side in ascendancy and there were two near-misses in quick succession. Mjelde almost caught out Bardsley with a low strike from a free-kick which was deflected just wide of the target, while Bachmann also skewed a decent shooting opportunity after being teed up by her strike partner.
Manchester City boss Nick Cushing responded to Chelsea regaining control by sending on Janine Beckie in place of Weir, adding another direct, pacey player to operate alongside Parris, but it did little to stem the flow of attacks from the visiting side.
Set-pieces continued to be a source of encouragement for Hayes' side and one such opportunity almost led to the opening goal with 15 minutes remaining. A foul by Stanway on Ingle earned the City midfielder a booking and gave Cuthbert the chance to clip in a free-kick which Kirby met with a diving header that cannoned off the crossbar and out of play.
Suddenly the game had opened up, and the Blues were even closer to taking a deserved lead through perhaps our best move of the match. Once again the pace of our No14 troubled the opposition defence and she passed back to Ingle, who in turn smartly flicked it into the path of Cuthbert. The Scot shot low and hard past Bardsley only for the woodwork to come to the City keeper's rescue for the second time in the space of three minutes as the ball rolled agonisingly across the goal-line and to safety.
Sensing the game was there for the taking, Hayes made two attacking changes, introducing Ji and England in place of Spence and Bachmann, but meetings between these sides are decided by such fine margins and fate was about to deal us a cruel hand. A hopeful cross by Demi Stokes bounced up off Eriksson with no City player around her, looping over Berger and into the back of the net.
There was little time for the Blues to find a response and so a fourth trip to Wembley in five years eluded us in the most agonising of circumstances. As Hayes said after the game, 'That's the way it goes sometimes in football,' and the manager was quick to point out what a wonderful season Eriksson has had.
Her job this week will be to ready her players for a double-header with Lyon to see which side will face Barcelona or Bayern Munich with the Champions League at stake. The first leg takes place next Sunday in Lyon and there will be a coach departing from Stamford Bridge on Saturday 20 April. Then the following Sunday the return match takes place at Kingsmeadow – get your tickets now, with juniors and seniors able to attend free of charge.
Chelsea (4-4-2) Berger; Mjelde, Bright, Eriksson, Andersson; Cuthbert, Spence (Ji 86), Ingle, Carney (c); Kirby, Bachmann (England 86)
Unused subs Lindahl, Thorisdottir, Blundell, Carter, Riley
Booked Ingle 17
Manchester City (4-3-3) Bardsley; McManus, Beattie, Houghton (c), Stokes; Scott, Walsh, Stanway; Wullaert, Parris (Bonner (90+7), Weir (Beckie 69)
Unused subs Roebuck, Bonner, Bremer, Hemp, Campbell, Emslie
Scorer Eriksson og 90+2
Booked Wullaert 60, Stanway 75
Referee Rebecca Welch