Manchester City survived a second-half onslaught from Chelsea to reach the FA Cup final after a 2-1 victory at Wembley.
In a semifinal between the last two winners of the historic trophy, City had looked in complete control when Sergio Aguero headed them into a 2-0 lead right after the half-time break following Samir Nasri’s opener in the first period.
But, just as they had done in their original quarterfinal contest with City’s Manchester neighbors United, Chelsea came roaring back into the match. Demba Ba reduced their arrears with a fine strike midway through the period, but, despite several good chances, Chelsea couldn’t convert their pressure into an equalizer.
City now go onto meet Wigan Athletic in the final next month, while Chelsea still have a Europa League semifinal and their attempts to secure a place in the Champions League to focus on.
After a morale-boosting win against Manchester United last Monday, City continued that high level early on at Wembley.
Sergio Aguero tested Cech after just six minutes as the Chelsea goalkeeper was forced to dive at full stretch to turn the forward’s shot wide. It was a more comfortable save minutes later when he prevented Carlos Tevez from squeezing a shot in at the near post.
Tevez and Aguero also had further shots blocked before Chelsea began to get a foothold in the contest midway through the opening half.
They almost took the lead too, but Vincent Kompany was well placed to head Eden Hazard’s volleyed effort off the line after Costel Pantilimon had come and missed a Juan Mata free kick.
But Chelsea’s equality in the match would not last for long.
Yaya Toure was having a key impact in the game with his physicality in the midfield and fittingly he played a crucial part in City’s opening goal. The Ivorian’s long powerful strides saw him come forward down the right before cutting inside and feeding the ball into the box for Aguero, who immediately laid it off to Nasri. The France international oddly tried to play the ball out wide but fortunately it came straight back to him in a perfect position off of Azpilicuieta and this time made no mistake in tucking a shot past Cech.
It really should have been 2-0 before the break. Milner had already had a shot that looked destined for the bottom corner blocked by Aguero before the England midfielder lead a counter attack in the dying embers of the first half.
Milner out-muscled Ramires down the left and suddenly City had a numerical advantage on the break but they failed to take advantage as a poor ball into the box was parried away by Cech and then Vincent Kompany volleyed wide with the goal at his mercy.
It was not a missed opportunity that City were destined to dwell on, though, as they doubled their lead within two minutes of the restart.
Gareth Barry had time to look up on the edge of the area and deliver an inswinging cross to the far post where Chelsea’s marking left a lot to be desired and Aguero got up to loop an excellent header over an unmoved Cech into the corner.
From that moment on, Chelsea, perhaps initially left sluggish by a trip to Russia for their Europa League quarterfinal with Rubin Kazan on Thursday, sprung into life and grabbed the ascendency. And in the 66th minute they were right back in the game.
A long pass over the top caught out the City defense and with the ball holding up, Ba was forced to adjust but produced a stunning acrobatic finish in off Pantilimon’s left-hand post.
The game had now exploded into life, with Chelsea suddenly rampant. It was left to City’s goalkeeper to keep them in the lead. First, as Mata looked destined to score when attempting to take the ball past the goalkeeper, Pantilimon used the full extent of his extended frame to take it away from the Spaniard.
Just minutes later he produced a fine reaction save to palm away Ba’s fierce close-range effort at his near post as the pressure continued to build.
The drama persisted in the remaining minutes as City began to get some grip back on the proceedings, but Chelsea remained dangerous. Rafael Benitez’s side will also be aggrieved at decisions from referee Chris Foy as substitute Fernando Torres was denied a penalty claim when grappled by Kompany in the box while Aguero escaped punishment for a two-footed stamp on David Luiz.
It had been an absorbing semifinal that had almost everything, but the final whistle blew with City still in front and looking forward to a return to Wembley in 27 days’ time.