Demba Ba provided the moment of big quality in the FA Cup quarterfinal match between Chelsea and Manchester United, with the Blues running out 1-0 winners at Stamford Bridge to go through and knock out the Red Devils.
The win for Chelsea means that they will go on to face Manchester City in the semifinals at Wembley, as they seek yet another FA Cup final appearance. They have not lost an FA Cup match in 90 minutes for five years.
In a match short on quality in the final third, one deep, lofted pass from Juan Mata provided the platform for Demba Ba's heroics, and he didn't let his team down by angling a wonderful finish into the far corner on the stretch.
Quite aside from his match-winning strike, Ba's all-round performance in a match where chances were not exactly forthcoming perhaps showed that he can be the longer-term No. 1 striker for Chelsea, perhaps negating the need for a big summer splash in the transfer market when other areas of the side clearly need strengthening.
Ba worked extremely hard at the top end of the field, closing down United's defenders and constantly providing an outlet for his teammates, especially the trio of attacking midfielders lined up behind him.
As a lone striker, Ba is expected to offer a variety of attributes to benefit Chelsea, and in the FA Cup match he showed them all.
Power and strength in abundance give Ba the edge over even the most physical of defenders at times; his balance in chesting the ball down or challenging for aerial battles means the centre-backs never get an easy ride, and he is as capable of going on to win the second ball himself as flicking it on—or down—for a teammate.
On the ball, he has shown a technical ability to complement the likes of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard behind him rather than merely be an "out-ball" for them until they catch up with play. Ba's link-up work has been more than impressive, whether dropping deep centrally or pulling out wide to the channels, thereby creating space in the middle for the likes of Mata to exploit.
Then, of course, there's his vertical off the ball movement.
Fernando Torres has pace, or had it, at least, but Ba has the acceleration and sharpness in his game right now which the Spaniard sorely lacks. Constantly on his toes and always moving, looking to make space for himself, Ba used exactly this type of movement to score his goal, spinning in behind the United defence to reach a lofted through-ball first.
The finish, exquisitely controlled, showed the final reason why Chelsea can perhaps rely on Ba next season and beyond to lead their line.
They have been linked with big-money bids for the likes of Edinson Cavani (via ESPN) and Radamel Falcao (via Mirror Football), but with the squad so unbalanced in some areas and a new manager—whoever it turns out to be—having to likely restructure the centre of defence and midfield, it may well be that Ba remains the leading light in the attack for some time to come.
With goals and performances such as this one against Manchester United, it would be fully merited.