SERGIO Aguero provided a Jekyll and Hyde contribution to Manchester City’s FA Cup semi-final triumph over Chelsea.
Scorers: Chelsea: Ba (66); Manchester City: Nasri (35), Aguero (47)
Referee: C Foy
The South American scored the second-half goal that ended up booking a meeting with Wigan in next month’s final. But he was also fortunate to escape a red card after a nasty challenge on David Luiz. With Samir Nasri also on target for City, it was enough to repel a spirited Chelsea revival after Demba Ba had pulled one back. The triumph keeps City manager Roberto Mancini in with a chance of extending his trophy-winning sequence to three seasons.
Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez, however, felt his side should have had a penalty when Vincent Kompany appeared to foul substitute Fernando Torres in the box, while he was also bemused that no action was taken on Aguero over his rash tackle. Asked if he thought it should have been a penalty, he said: “Yes, clearly. It is very clear. You can see the pictures. It is very clear. We had two situations in the second half that are difficult to explain. These two decisions were the big difference.”
That Chelsea went out with neither John Terry nor Frank Lampard being asked to make any contribution was the clearest indication yet that Benitez is presiding over a changing of the guard, even if he will be replaced as well during the summer. Terry and Lampard have been part of all seven Chelsea FA Cup triumphs at this revamped stadium.
At least Petr Cech, another survivor from Jose Mourinho’s time, remains an integral figure. Needing a fifth winner’s medal to shove David Seaman out of his share of being the most successful goalkeeper in the competition’s history, Cech had a particular reason to impress.
It certainly seemed like it anyway given the brilliance of his early save to deny Aguero. The Czech Republic international had set himself to deny Yaya Toure. That Aguero got his foot to the Ivorian’s effort and steered it even closer to the corner just made Cech’s plunge to the right more remarkable. Cech then denied Carlos Tevez as City continued their fast start, with Chelsea hardly in the contest until skipper Kompany cleared Eden Hazard’s mis-hit volley off the line. That chance came about because Costel Pantilimon flapped at a cross.
With silverware so close, there had been a feeling Mancini would restore Joe Hart to his FA Cup starting line-up. Clearly, Mancini has plenty of faith in the Romanian, just as the City fans have so much in their manager.
The Italian’s name was sung loudest and longest after Nasri had broken the deadlock. The sight of Toure powering at any defence is enough to get them quaking, and Chelsea seemed spooked by the midfielder lumbering towards their box, which meant Aguero was afforded too much space when the short pass came. He quickly flicked it on to Nasri, whose attempt at a return resulted in a couple of fortunate rebounds and the perfect opportunity to lash home.
When Aguero spun away from Branislav Ivanovic and headed home Gareth Barry’s cross straight after the restart, all Chelsea hope seemed lost. However, the arrival of Torres from the bench had an immediate impact. As play restarted following his 65th-minute introduction, David Luiz drove a long ball to the edge of City’s box, Torres flicked it on and Ba superbly hooked it in.
It ended City’s chances of becoming only the fourth team to lift the trophy without conceding a goal and injected Chelsea with some much-needed self-belief. Pantilimon saved at the feet of Juan Mata, then produced a wonderful stop to deny Ba. It was spellbinding stuff, which just made Aguero’s two-footed lunge at Luiz all the more stupid.
Had Chris Foy seen it, City would have been left with just ten men. As he didn’t, Aguero was still around for Torres to run his studs down the back of his calf, although in neither instance did any injury result. It left a sour taste, although as it happened within the general run of play, it is unlikely Aguero will face any retrospective action. Instead, he will return to this stadium in four weeks’ time and aim to add another FA Cup to City’s expanding trophy collection.
Kompany later insisted the referee Foy was right not to award a penalty against him for his challenge on Torres. “I thought it was great defending,” the Belgium international said. “I put my body in the way and did everything I could.”
“For a while it was too comfortable,” said the City captain.