Eden Hazard and Ramires saved Chelsea from FA Cup elimination as the Blues and Manchester United served up a classic FA Cup tie.
Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney both struck inside the first 11 minutes to give United a seemingly unassailable lead, but bar those opening moments, Chelsea were well on top.
Chance after chance presented itself to Chelsea, but it was only until the 58th minute that Chelsea scored through Hazard, with a Ramires equaliser coming nine minutes later.
United then had De Gea to thank with a string of fine stops from the likes of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres.
John Terry and John Obi Mikel were not included in the starting XI, with Rafael Benitez opting for David Luiz and Ramires, and he was made to pay in the early stages.
The Blues may not have been able to defend their European crown, but the holding FA Cup winners did not even seem to want to preserve some pride in the domestic cup competition.
Michael Carrick’s delightful ball to Hernandez had Cech hurrying out, but with the ball in mid-flight and the goalkeeper caught in no-man’s land, all the Mexican had to do was loop his header over the big keeper. It was 1-0 before Chelsea had even woken up.
Still dazed by the early start, United hit them with another. Nani earned a foul off Moses on the left-wing, and Rooney’s innocent-looking ball evaded everyone. With Cech expecting contact, he could only watch helplessly as the ball swung past him and into his goal.
Could Chelsea recover? Even if time was on the west Londoners’ side, it seemed unlikely as to whether United could actually let it slip.
For a Club celebrating its 108th birthday today, the hierarchy turned out in its numbers. Gourlay, Buck and Bernard all showed their faces, but there was not much to raise a glass too.
And so the onus was on the Blues to make amends. United could dictate the play as slowly as they wanted – they were in the ascendancy – and Moses was the first to try to seek a way through, only see his his shot blocked.
Lampard had a try to reach the elusive double-century of goals for Chelsea, but had to be mindful of his defensive responsibilities, with Javier Hernandez nearly scoring a third by flicking on a Nani cross.
David Luiz was not helping his keeper either. Wayne Rooney’s strike was saved by Cech, and when the ball bounced in the air, David Luiz made the conscious decision to head towards Cech’s goal. The Czech stopper displayed fine reflexes to drag his huge frame upwards and claw it out.
Ba poked a daisy-cutter in the direction of De Gea as Chelsea resorted to long-range efforts. Benitez has some work to do going into the half-time break.
The likes of Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink may well have made a double substitution as soon as the 12th minute, but Rafa Benitez waited until the 51st minute before sending on Mikel and Hazard.
The latter’s arrival proved inspired. Fed the ball on the edge of the box, the Belgian was shown inside by his man-marker, Rafael. What followed was an audacious curler that De Gea could only be in awe at, and Chelsea had halved the deficit.
Chelsea nemesis Hernandez was to be replaced by Robin Van Persie, but it was Chelsea who grabbed the next goal.
Oscar’s through-ball to Ramires was inviting, but the midfielder still had a lot to do. Opting to cut inside onto his left foot, the Brazilian then found De Gea’s bottom corner with effortless aplomb.
Now it was United’s turn to be fearful. A rampant Chelsea brought another save from De Gea, whilst Van Persie had efforts blocked.
Mata nearly won it for Chelsea in the dying stages but for De Gea’s instinctive leg out. The Blues have not lost in the FA Cup in 90 minutes since a 2008 tie against Barnsley. The run continues. Just about.