Chelsea book a Wembley date against Tottenham Hotspur after seeing past Manchester United 1-0.
A solo goal by N’Golo Kante in the second half was enough to provide Antonio Conte his first taste of Wembley at the end of April, and despite the slender score-line, it was a match Chelsea dominated, with the hosts recording 73% possession and some 20 shots to the visitor’s four.
The turning point of the match will undoubtedly have been in the 35th minute when Ander Herrera took one for the team for his side’s incessant and persistent fouls on Hazard, and when Michael Oliver was generous to let Phil Jones off for the third time, the next foul on the Belgian would have been sanctioned and it was unfortunate Herrera took the brunt of it having already had a yellow to his name.
That should not take the gloss off a fine Chelsea — and indeed Manchester United in most parts — performance, against a Tottenham side keen to avenge the 5-1 loss against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final five years ago.
It was a start to the half which would have pleased Mourinho, who would no doubt have been lecturing his side repeatedly to avoid the disastrous start in the 4-0 drubbing in October.
Whilst there was no goal by Pedro after 30 seconds — namely because the Spaniard was on the bench — the match kicked into life from the off, with Manchester United adopting an aggressive man-marking approach, affording Chelsea little space and time on the ball.
Cahill was the man targetted, with the Chelsea captain not possessing the most angelic of feet, and Mkhitaryan was the first to worry Courtois, dragging a left foot shot just wide of the far post.
One man with more agile feet was Eden Hazard. Just a quarter of an hour in, the Belgian, who was tightly marked and fouled all evening, did superbly well to beat three men, turn Jones and get his shot away, only to see it expertly saved by De Gea.
From the ensuing corner, Cahill was man-handled but managed to get his shot away, again thwarted by an excellent De Gea right hand.
Seconds later Macros Alonso then sent a pile driver wide, as Manchester United were starting to be on the back foot after a strong opening.
Ander Herrera was booked for a cynical shoulder barge stopping Hazard from progressing his run, but the ball did fall to Costa, who could not capitalise on Michael Oliver’s advantage.
The Belgian then raced clean through, but his shot with his left foot was wild and sailed over the bar. Costa was then inches away from feeding a through-ball to Marcos Alonso who made a smart run down the left as Chelsea turned it up a notch.
Phil Jones then fouled Eden Hazard for the third time, and after Oliver spoke to Jones and Smalling that this would be his final chance before a yellow card, Herrera was stupid to get involved as soon as he took the free-kick, fouling Hazard again literally two seconds after Michael Oliver had warned the Manchester United team to stop the persistent fouling. Whilst Herrera’s foul was not worthy of a standalone yellow card, the irony is Jones’ fortune to escape one was Herrera’s misfortune, as Oliver was clearly ready to card anyone who next fouled the diminutive Belgian.
Chelsea had the best part of an hour left with a one man advantage, but with Fellani manning the shores, both sides trickled into the half-time break honours even, with a late Moses shot unlikely to test De Gea.
But the Blues did not have to wait long in the second half to make Mourinho pay.
A probing Chelsea attack saw Kante free in the centre of the pitch 20 yards out, and when Rojo simply kept his distance and put his hands behind his back, it invited Kante to try his hand, and try his hand he did, curling the ball expertly by De Gea, who looked unstoppable all evening.
It needed something to beat the Spaniard tonight, and this element of surprise from Kante, arguable the last Chelsea man you would expect to score, was perhaps it. The Frenchman has scored two goals for Chelsea, and both have come against the Red Devils.
Manchester United’s biggest chance then came through Marcus Rashford, who was leading the line admirably with Rooney and Ibrahimovic both out for different reasons. The Englishman collected a stray header by Luiz, ran rings around Cahill but the final shot was weak and stopped by Courtois’ legs.
Costa then had a totally free header from a corner which he failed to capitalise on, whilst Willian’s effort as we entered the final 20 minutes was harder but still concerned De Gea.
Moses and Willian worked the ball well down the right and Costa missed another sitter from one yard out, failing to sort his feet out for the tap-in, with Alonso and Hazard doing their best to recycle play.
But whilst the second goal would have made the match more comfortable for the vast majority inside Stamford Bridge, Manchester United failed to probe any more and Chelsea settled with the solo goal by N’Golo Kante.
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Man of the Match
EDEN HAZARD: Whilst N’Golo Kante must take plaudits for another robust outing, adding to his game with the winning goal, the man who got right under Manchester United’s skin and caused the initial rattling has to be Eden Hazard. The Belgian is everywhere and at the heart of everything good Chelsea produce, as shown by how much he is fouled. He caused the visitors all sorts of problems — Herrera got sent off for his troubles — and generally oozes confidence and class, not making a meal out of a blatant stamp on his chest by Rojo. 8/10
Conte was thrilled: “It was a good performance against a strong team with good players. United has the best squad in the league. For us we must be pleased to go into the next round.” On the persistent fouling of Hazard: “This tactic, to play by going to kick the opponent, does not exist. It is not football for me. I do not think this can be a tactic.”
Mourinho understood the congestion of his fixture list: “I just want to say that I am really proud of my players and Manchester United fans. We have a very important match on Thursday and I want to rest a little bit and prepare as best as we can.”