In the programme notes ahead of yesterday’s FA Cup semifinal against Aston Villa at Wembley, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said the competition was ‘special’.
The performance his players produced was anything but that.
However, that will matter little as the Blues’ hopes of a domestic double remain alive after a deceptively comfortable 3-0 win.
A repeat of Chelsea’s 7-1 victory last month was never realistically on the cards, and there was talk in the buildup of such a heavy defeat serving to motivate Martin O’Neill’s players.
There was some historical precedent to give them heart.
Twenty years ago Liverpool took on Crystal Palace in the semifinals of the same competition, having beaten them 9-0 in the league not long beforehand. The Eagles surprised everyone, and triumphed 4-3 after extra time.
For much of the game, Villa displayed the greater energy and determination, with James Milner and Ashley Young relishing the task of taking on Paulo Ferreira and Yuri Zhirkov.
Chelsea’s attack, by stark contrast, appeared blunter than it has done for a long time. Florent Malouda’s good form deserted him, and Joe Cole ventured forward very little, often opting to pass the ball back from where it came instead of trying to cause problems.
Then as the game wore on, Villa did exactly what John Terry said they have a habit of doing—tiring.
"We knew Villa would tire after 55-60 minutes and that if we kept passing the ball, spaces would appear and chances would come," the Chelsea captain said after the 7-1 win. O’Neill criticised Terry for making a ‘pretty idle comment,’ but that is exactly what they did at Wembley yesterday.
Didier Drogba was in the right place at just the right time to turn in John Terry’s shot after 67 minutes—his 32nd goal of what is turning out to be a prolific season.
Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard added some gloss to the result in injury time as their opponents poured forward in search of a goal.
O’Neill was understandably unhappy, and two incidents in particular drew his ire.
First of all, Aston Villa should have had a penalty when John Obi Mikel dragged down Gabriel Agbonlahor with just over of a quarter of the game played.
Even from my elevated seat in the upper echelons of the stadium it looked like a certain penalty. Howard Webb waved play on, and the Villa boss was left to rue another controversial penalty incident at the same stadium.
“I am sitting here five weeks on talking about another major incident," he said, referring to the decision not to send off Nemanja Vidic when he brought down Agbonlahor in the Carling Cup final.
"It is incontestable. Even the Chelsea players knew, you could tell by their reaction it was a penalty.
"The referee has chosen to ignore it because of the possible consequences.”
He added: "The referee bottled it against Manchester United and we have had the same today."
A challenge from Terry on James Milner also angered the Irishman, who said that Milner was lucky his career was not ended.
He said: "It was a horrendous challenge on an England team-mate. I have spoken to the doctor who says he's a very lucky boy."
O’Neill will be left nursing a deep sense of injustice, and the outcome of this match could have been very different had that penalty been given.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, is edging ever closer to a domestic double in his first season in charge.
He is six games away from potentially making history.
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