Too little too late as Chelsea fall just short against Man City

Posted by Phil Lythell

Fernando Torres wrestled by Vincent Kompany Man City v Chelsea Wembley GettyImagesFernando Torres was unlucky not to be awarded a penalty

Looking back at Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup, there is an all encompassing feeling of what could have been.

Chelsea showed enough in patches during the 90 minutes to suggest that they should at least have forced extra time had they adopted the correct posture for the entire match. As it was, the team played in spurts. The 20 minutes before half time and the last half an hour of the game were dominated by the Blues, but it was insufficient to overturn a team of City's class.

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The Premier League champions were afforded far too much respect in the opening exchanges and they were able to set a tempo that the Blues struggled to match. It is always infuriating to see your team opt to sit back and allow good opponents time to settle when the exact opposite approach should be pursued. There was far too little pressure exerted in midfield as the teams felt their way into the game and as a result Yaya Toure was able to dominate the centre of the pitch without breaking sweat.

Fortunately for Chelsea, they managed to survive the opening 20 minutes without conceding. As if to compensate for that, irony then dealt the Londoners a horrible hand as they fell 1-0 down just as they were assuming the ascendancy. Although fully merited, it felt like a kick in the solar plexus considering that the Blues had almost taken the lead themselves only for Vincent Kompany to clear Eden Hazard's shot off the line.

As well as failing to impose themselves in midfield, Chelsea's main deficiency was in the intelligent use of the ball in advanced areas. Hazard was starved of possession for large periods, which was all the more galling seeing as when he did see more of the ball he pulled the strings with his usual efficiency. Juan Mata was unusually subdued given the fact that he did not feature in the midweek trip to Rubin Kazan, while Oscar was virtually anonymous.

The Brazilian was ineffective with the ball at his feet and gave Ryan Bertrand - who had one of his finer performances in a Chelsea shirt - practically no protection against City's forays down the left flank. In fact it was Oscar failing to track Toure's run that led to the opening goal and was yet another pointer as to why he is not cut out to play in a wide position, however nominal that might be. Oscar is a central player, whether sitting deep or in the number ten role, and it was instructive to note how much more positive his contribution was once he was shifted alongside Ramires in the second half.

The hammer blow came at the start of the second half when Sergio Aguero smartly lost the attention of Branislav Ivanovic to nod home and it was disappointing to see Rafael Benitez wait 20 minutes before attempting to tweak any tactics. His eventual introduction of Fernando Torres yielded an immediate goal and the Spanish striker had a significant impact on the rest of the match. For that the manager deserves credit. To his detriment, however, was the failure to introduce Frank Lampard into proceedings.

It is understandable that Benitez did not want to upset the shape of the team as it began its relentless siege of the City goal in the closing stages, but a goal was needed. In that situation a natural goalscorer is what is required so it beggars belief that a man with a quite incredible tally of 200 Chelsea goals was left twiddling his thumbs on the bench. Lampard has a God-given knack of being in the right place at the right time and as the ball bounced around the Man City penalty box in the last 10 minutes it needed a man possessing just those abilities to stab the ball home.

Even so, Chelsea would have earned extra time had it not been for a severe case of myopia from referee Chris Foy and his assistants. How none of them saw that Vincent Kompany was attempting to swap shirts with Torres as the striker ran clear on goal is unfathomable. Even from the upper tier at Wembley, it was clearly visible that Torres' shirt had been jerked halfway up his chest by the Belgian defender, but instead Torres got booked for his protestations and City progressed to what is surely a formality in the final against Wigan.

The purpose and skill that the team exhibited in the periods before half time and full time were impressive but were ultimately not enough. For the sixth time this season, the opportunity for silverware has passed the club by. Still, the Europa League remains and it is certainly winnable, though hopefully not at the expense of Champions League qualification.

Whether Rafael Benitez is aware of that priority is anyone's guess.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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