It took Chelsea and Manchester United a while to get going in their FA Cup replay, but once they did the two sides put forth a memorable performance that would be won by Chelsea, 1-0.
Demba Ba would be the hero for the Blues in this contest, as his goal early in the second half would be the difference.
But the game started slowly, with both teams poking and prodding the opponent's defense in what could be most kindly described as a cagey affair. Chelsea would lose defender Ashley Cole in the 20th minute after it looked like he may have pulled a hamstring, and he would be replaced by Ryan Bertrand.
Ba would rocket a tough-angle attempt at goal in the 30th minute, but David de Gea would turn it aside with a fine kick save.
The game would open up a bit after that, with the teams trading missed attempts on goal. Nani would send a shot from outside the box wide, while Eden Hazard would curl an effort just over the bar. Then, a swerving Javier Hernandez shot from distance would confuse Petr Cech and nearly sneak in behind the keeper.
Nonetheless, the first half would end in a scoreless draw. It wouldn't take Chelsea long to open the scoring in the second half, however.
Juan Mata would play a perfect pass over the top of the Manchester United defense to Ba, who would fully stretch his body to throw his right foot on the ball and chip the ball over a helpless de Gea. Both the pass and finish were nothing short of pure genius.
Minutes later, Manchester United would be denied a sure chance to equalize.
Danny Welbeck's cross would find its way unto the head of Chicharito, but his attempted header would be pushed over the bar by the left hand of Cech. Even Hernandez could do nothing but laugh and congratulate Cech on a marvelous save.
Eden Hazard would have the opportunity to double the lead in the 66th minute after splitting two defenders down the center of the pitch, but he would push his shot just wide of the goal. Not long after, Mata would slice an attempt at goal just over the bar.
In the 87th minute, substitute Robin van Persie would blow a golden opportunity, pushing a Patrice Evra cross into the box over the bar. It was an uncharacteristic miss from one of the world's most clinical finishers. He would again miss a chance in stoppage time, this time heading a cross over the bar.
Juan Mata, Chelsea: A
What doesn't this man do? He set up Chelsea's goal. He regularly spearheaded Chelsea's attack. His passing was precise and his decision-making was mostly impeccable, save a somewhat selfish decision at one point to take a shot from a poor angle rather than set up a teammate.
There aren't many players in the world more technically skilled than Mata, and he showed it once again on Monday morning.
Javier Hernandez, Manchester United: B
Hernandez was easily United's most dangerous player, but he also left a few scoring chances on the board. Cech's save on his header was nothing short of brilliant by the Chelsea keeper, but Hernandez could have done better with several other opportunities, including failing to take a shot at one point because he wanted the ball on his right foot.
Chelsea's Defense: A+
From the brilliant Petr Cech to a sturdy back line and John Obi Mikel and Ramires clogging up the midfield, the Blues absorbed Manchester United's potent attack and reduced the number of chances for the Red Devils.
Sure, neither Wayne Rooney or van Persie started this game, but you can only defend the team on the pitch, and Chelsea did so with aplomb. When Chelsea's back four remain sturdy and the defensive mids clog up play, it allows Mata, Hazard and Oscar to press forward without fear.
That is Chelsea at its finest, and that was Chelsea on Monday.
Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, Manchester United: C
The United pair were simply outplayed in the midfield, as Mikel and Ramires allowed little movement in the middle of the pitch and Oscar, Hazard and Mata regularly switched from wide to central roles and found little resistance when pressing forward. Quite simply, Carrick and Cleverley looked overmatched.
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