Man City, Chelsea put on a great Cup semifinal

Posted by James Martin

Samir Nasri fires Manchester City into the lead at WembleyPA PhotosSamir Nasri capped a surprisingly good game for Man City with the opening goal.

After watching Stoke City sink ever closer to the relegation zone earlier in the day -- their turgid 2-0 loss at the Britannia to Manchester United was a welcome sight for some -- the FA Cup semifinal between Chelsea and Manchester City was the perfect tonic.

It crackled in a high-tempo manner, with players flying in with tackles and bodies flying left and right. (Oh, and referee Chris Foy keeping his whistle -- and his red card -- in his pocket.)

- Curtis: Football redeems itself
- Lythell: Too little too late for Chelsea
- Brewin: Cherished Mancini closes on Cup glory

For a neutral, this could easily have been a dire affair: the undesirables from Stamford Bridge versus the unlikables from the Etihad. But they put on a brilliant show, with City defeating Chelsea 2-1 to book its place in the FA Cup final against Roberto "Spanish Bob" Martinez and Wigan.

Some other quick thoughts:

Can we call City's season a success?
We assume that Roberto Mancini's side will now go on to defeat Wigan and win its second FA Cup in three years, a commendable achievement. After all, the Sky Blues ended the week much like they started it against United on Monday, playing with pace and getting sparkling, industrious performances from the marauding Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri (who netted for the first time in 20 games) in particular.

Still, for all the strong play, City will look back on the season with a bit of regret. This is a squad built for more important hardware, yet it's only been in the past couple of weeks that we've seen the chutzpah that won them the title last season.

Chelsea -- one competition to play for
Rafa Benitez's side started out the match looking haggard and tired -- unsurprising as it has played 15 more games this season than City. His team selections seemed equally uninspired, too. Having been heavily criticized for his curious squad rotation over the past few weeks, to go without Frank Lampard in midfield for a match like this will surely earn him further complaints.

But as poor as the Blues played in the first half, they came alive in the second. Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard propelled things from midfield, Demba Ba scored a glorious goal and the Masked Crusader, Fernando Torres -- whose off-the-ball run helped Ba create the room for the Blues' goal -- had a legitimate claim for a penalty when Vincent Kompany grabbed and pulled him in the box like a parent trying to wrangle a wayward child.

In the end, Chelsea's excellent FA Cup run came to an end, undone by the one team arguably better than them in this season's competition. (Ba's second-half goal was the only one City has conceded in this cup campaign.) Yes, they were a bit hard done by not having at least pushed the match into extra time -- the Torres penalty shout and Sergio Aguero's two-footed, unpunished lunge on David Luiz could have been called on another day -- but at least there's one less reason for Rafa to complain about fixture fatigue. Now, the Europa League is the only thing left with which he can pad his resume before he leaves Stamford Bridge.

Work to be done on Chelsea's defense
Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic (who had a good first half) were both culpable on Nasri's strike and also complicit in Aguero's headed goal early in the second half. Oscar, who did have a decent tackle toward the end, needs to do more in helping out the defense as well.

Give it up for City's second-string goalie
Mancini raised more than a few eyebrows by benching Joe Hart in favor of 6-foot-8 behemoth Costel Pantilimon. Would he be a liability, particularly as the Blues mounted a second-half surge? Not so; the Romanian keeper handled the situation with aplomb, coming up with two superb saves -- one at Mata's feet that would have been a stone-cold penalty if not timed right, and another from Ba's close-range effort barely a minute later. He also used his towering height to claim any and all crosses with authority. If not for him, Chelsea would have most certainly evened the score.

Final word
City was the better side for sure, and if they had taken a few more chances (James Milner in particular blew a gilt-edge chance to pass to Aguero on a five-on-two counterattack, hitting a lame-headed shot instead) there wouldn't have been such late drama following Chelsea's goal. Wigan awaits.

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