Chelsea v Manchester United is the kind of game people expect in the latter stages of the FA Cup. A battle between two of the countries ‘top six’ sides and in this case a rematch of last year’s final. It’s the sort of match that people get excited about. For me, it was the only Fifth Round choice available, although I wasn’t complaining.
People who are really invested in the cup seem to have been more vocal this season about how it’s at the mercy of the TV companies and fans who watch games via screens of varying sizes. This is something the rest of us already knew. It’s not news, the TV horse bolted the stable a long time ago. For the first time on my road to wembley the scheduling actually caused me a headache and for a while it looked like my road to Wembley might have ended in the previous round in Barnet. Thankfully, a family friend came to my rescue with the offer of a ticket for the Monday night game at Stamford Bridge.
Competition: FA Cup Fifth Round
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Dogs spotted: None
Chelsea and United meet again
Chelsea beat United 1-0 in last year’s final. Even those of us with really short memories will remember they also met in the 2007, the first at the new Wembley Stadium, a game that Chelsea also won 1-0. Unsurprisingly for two of the competitions most successful clubs, Chelsea and United have met plenty of times on the FA Cup field of battle, 15 times in fact. Continuing the theme of 1-0 wins United won the first cup meeting between the two sides in February 1901.
United have the edge over their Premier League rivals in the cup with eight wins to Chelsea’s five. United won the first final between the two sides 4-0 in 1994 but Chelsea have won all four of the FA Cup meetings between the sides since the turn of the millenium. The only meeting between the two sides since the final last May was a 2-2 Premier League draw back in October. The fortunes of the two sides have changed markedly since then, however, as United’s results have improved since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken over as manager while Maurizio Sarri has struggled to get the best out of his Chelsea squad.
Monday night football at Stamford Bridge
There seemed to an odd calm on the crowded trains headed towards Fulham Broadway. These two sets of fans are pretty familiar with each and despite the increased amounts of the United fans due to their cup allocation the atmosphere was jovial. The majority of Chelsea fans, certain the audible ones, on my particular carriage on the District Line seemed resigned to a potential defeat at the hands of one of the form teams in the Premier League.
Fortunately for the home side, league form or position hasn’t counted for too much in the cup this year. My trips to Fulham and Barnet have attested to that this year. The crowds at Stamford Bridge seemed larger than when I visited the West London ground just over a year ago towards the end of the Antonio Conte reign. Many spoke of the possibility of this being Sarri’s last games as they thronged down the Fulham Road.
As we entered the ground, as is often the norm, spirits seemed higher amongst the locals in blue. It’s amazing how the surroundings of the inner sanctum of a football stadium can turn even the most sceptical pregame prophet into a strong believer. The plentiful bars inside the West Stand were doing a good trade even though I never stopped to sample them myself as I weaved through the crowds to my seat.
We were towards the back of the lower tier, on the opposite side of the ground from my last visit where I was right at the back of the upper tier struggling to see the ball whenever it was hoofed over a certain height. The view this time was much better. There were even TVs above our heads just in case we missed anything. Our tickets were courtesy of some season ticket holders who were away. They’ve clearly chosen their seats well.
United finally get 21st century cup win over Blues
Chelsea arranged for the sides, in what is becoming an increasingly popular move, to come out to some pyrotechnics. No pyro, no party as some of the against modern football crowd say. I’m not sure this is what the meant though. Sadly for the home side, the only pyrotechnics on the page came from the visitors.
Chelsea started the game the well, keeping position and moving up the pitch. They struggled, however, to create too many chances to threaten Romero who was up the task any time they did actually get near the goal. He saved well from a Luiz free kick and then Pedro’s rebound. United, who were missing Martial and Lingard, were a little more patient but Pogba ran the show in midfield from early on.
The visiting fans were sent into raptures midway through the first half as Pogba’s inch perfect cross found Herrera at the back post and he easily nodded the ball past Kepa the keeper. Chelsea, to their credit, didn’t look to shell shocked at first. It was nothing they weren’t expecting of course according to the pundits on the westbound District line train.
There looked to still be plenty to play for in the second half as a few thirsty supporters headed for the bars just before the halftime whistle. Unfortunately, they missed the decisive moment of the game. Pogba played Rashford in down the right hand side. The forward then returned the favour with another inch perfect cross for the Frenchman to head past the Chelsea number 1.
The second goal felt like it effectively killed off any Chelsea resistance. They then struggled to get much going in the second half as United looked comfortable. Sarri confused plenty of the locals by refusing to add any attacking options. Barkley replaced Kovacic and he later brought on a right back for the original right back. Not much to see there. The Chelsea fans soon began to display their frustration at their new manager.
United deservedly held on to make the Quarter Finals. Chelsea’s defeat unfortunately means there is one less London club in the next round. Millwall, Crystal Palace and Watford still remain, however, to provide me with ticketing options for the next round.