Chelsea vs. Manchester City: Key Battles to Watch in FA Cup Semi-Final
Sunday afternoon sees an absolutely fascinating FA Cup semi-final match-up at Wembley Stadium between last year's European champions Chelsea and Premier League title-winners Manchester City.
Both heavyweights will be viewing this competition as the ideal opportunity with which to end on a high what have been, by their respective standards, disappointing campaigns.
And what is more, the FA Cup holds a special place in both Chelsea and City’s hearts, with the West Londoners being the current holders, while manager Roberto Mancini’s first trophy at Eastlands came a year before that when his side beat Stoke City 1-0 at Wembley.
This is likely to be a closely fought contest, with little but fine margins separating the two teams come the full-time whistle, and so we at the Bleacher Report are here to examine the five most important battles that will ultimately end up deciding which side returns to Wembley for the final next month.
Vincent Kompany vs. Demba Ba
Watch Ba's stunning strike against United in the Cup
City’s inspirational skipper and classy centre-half was back to his very best in Monday night’s 2-1 win at Manchester United in the Premier League after a recent seven-week spell on the sidelines with a calf injury, and he is going to need all his redoubtable qualities to quell the threat of the powerful Chelsea striker.
Ba’s goalscoring record since swapping St James’ Park for Stamford Bridge in the January transfer window is not exactly going to give the Belgium international sleepless nights. Nevertheless, the front man has netted three times in just five Cup ties for the West Londoners, including a memorable volleyed winner in their quarter-final replay win against United.
And so if Kompany can get the better of his head-to-head duel with the Senegalese, it may go a long way toward determining the outcome of this tie.
Yaya Toure vs. Mikel John Obi
Watch Toure get the better of Mikel at Eastlands in February
This could prove to be an eye-catching battle in the centre of the park between two powerhouse African midfield players, especially if City coach Mancini opts to start his Ivory Coast international in a more advanced position as opposed to the holding role he frequently starts Toure off in.
If that is the case, then Mikel is going to need to be at his most athletic and aware to be able to put out the fires that Toure will be starting in front of the Blues’ back four at Wembley, as he was unable to do with such disastrous consequences when the two teams met in the top flight back in February.
As on that occasion at the Etihad stadium, with the outcome of the match still hanging delicately by a thread, the Nigeria international failed miserably in his duties to protect his backtracking defence, and in the process allowed a marauding Toure to fire the home side ahead.
Can Mikel do better on Sunday by sticking to Toure like a limpet? Well, if he again shirks his responsibilities, then you can only really see one winner come the full-time whistle.
Gael Clichy vs. Juan Mata
Watch what Clichy will be up against at Wembley on Sunday
Sunday could be a busy afternoon for the City full-back, who will not only be required to bomb forward down the left flank supporting play whenever his team have the ball, but also will be asked to carry out his primary defensive responsibilities with his usual aplomb.
And that means keeping a close eye at all times on Chelsea’s impish midfield player Mata, who is likely to start the semi-final in an advanced position on the right-hand side of midfield.
Mata has contributed a quite staggering 30 assists in just 53 matches in all competitions this season, not to mention a mere 18 goals as well to the team’s cause. If they can shackle the twinkle-toed Spain international, City will be well on their way to returning to Wembley for the final next month.
However, get caught upfield by a swift Chelsea counterattack or by the skill and trickery of the Blues’ chief creator when simply defending, and it could be Clichy and Co. who end the season without any silverware (discounting their 3-2 Community Shield triumph over the same opponents at Villa Park last August, that is).
Pablo Zabaleta vs. Eden Hazard
Watch Hazard's wonder goal against United at Old Trafford in the Cup in March
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the pitch will be an equally intriguing and potentially match-defining battle between City’s Mr. Dependable and Chelsea’s mercurial Belgian wizard.
You would be hard-pressed to name a more solid or effective full-back currently operating in the Premier League than Zabaleta. He defensively provides ballast, organisation and impregnability to the City back four, while going forward the sometimes-unheralded Argentina international is also a constant threat with his buccaneering runs deep into opposition territory.
However, the right-back knows that come kick-off time on Sunday he will have his work cut out marshalling the danger that Hazard will pose him and his fellow defenders as Chelsea’s pocket battleship of a winger tries to impose himself on proceedings from the left flank.
In fact, City need only ask arch-rivals United just what a threat the Belgian playmaker can pose from wide on the left, as it was the 22-year-old’s introduction just after the break in Chelsea’s FA Cup quarter-final clash at Old Trafford last month that ultimately turned the course of that tie. Hazard scored one of the goals of the season as the Blues fought back from 2-0 down at the break to earn a well-deserved 2-2 draw.
Just which of these two performers wins this individual contest on Sunday could end up deciding the outcome of the match.
Sergio Aguero vs. David Luiz
Watch Aguero's sensational winner at United in the top flight on Monday night
Argentina versus Brazil is normally a fiercely fought contest at the best of times. When these two South American warriors go head to head at Wembley on Sunday, do not expect it to be any different or for any quarter to be given.
On paper, it may appear to be a slightly lopsided battle between little and large. However, there is nothing small about ‘Kun’ Aguero’s heart or will to win, while his skills on the football field leave nothing to be desired, either. The Argentinian reminded everyone of his magnificence yet again with his winning solo goal at United in the Premier League on Monday night.
Attempting to prevent City’s impish attacker from hurting his side will be Brazil international centre-back Luiz, a player currently more famous in England for Gary Neville’s cutting “PlayStation” barb than his actions on the field.
However, on his day, the shaggy-haired 25-year-old can master even the most accomplished of strikers, and in Aguero that is exactly what he will be coming up against this weekend.
And so this threatens to be yet another absolutely pivotal mini-battle in the fight to see who wins the war.