City join Wigan in FA Cup final
Barring late flurry, erratic Chelsea were no match for Mancini’s men at Wembley where Nasri and Aguero goals gave them too much to do
Samir Nasri of Manchester City (8) shoots past Petr Cech of Chelsea to score the opening of the second FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
There was a point of this semi-final when it had looked as though Chelsea were going to be overwhelmed. They can reflect on a spirited effort during the final exchanges but it is no good playing well for only the last third of a match. Roberto Mancini's team won by being far less erratic and can automatically be regarded as the favourites when they return to Wembley for the final.
Wigan Athletic will certainly have their work cut out on May 11th if Mancini's team play to the level that was seen in the first hour. Samir Nasri had given them a first-half lead and Sergio Agüero's header two minutes after the restart was a fair reflection of their dominance. Chelsea had been so vapid until that point that it almost came as a shock when Demba Ba scored with an expertly taken volley midway through the second half.
For the first time in the match there was some sustained pressure from Rafael Benítez's team. Fernando Torres's introduction as a second-half substitute gave them a new spearhead in attack and they subjected their opponents to some intense pressure late on. Yet City, on the whole, did a good job of protecting Costel Pantilimon and, for all their effort, Chelsea threatened only sporadically to bring into question Mancini's decision to keep the Romanian as his FA Cup goalkeeper at the expense of Joe Hart.
There could be no argument either that City deserve their place in the final, or that a touch more ruthlessness could have spared their supporters the late, nerve-shredding ordeal in which David Luiz ditched defensive duties and was added to their front line.
City had been considerably the better team, passing the ball with greater purpose and dominating the first hour to an extent that should gravely trouble Benítez. Agüero and Carlos Tevez both had a licence to roam, such elusive and dangerous opponents. Nasri may not have had a particularly productive season but showed why Mancini has been willing to persevere with him. David Silva's absence with a hamstring injury could have been a considerable loss. Instead, Mancini's team began the match precisely as they had left off against Manchester United the previous Monday.
They had already started to pin Chelsea back well before they took a 35th-minute lead. Yaya Touré, the game's outstanding player, started the move with one of those driving runs through midfield. Nasri was running on to Agüero's measured little layoff and César Azpilicueta could not get a clean tackle on the Frenchman. The ricochet was kind to Nasri and he picked his spot from six yards.
The goal had arrived at the first point of the match when Chelsea's more penetrative players prominently involved. For the most part, however, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar were only on the edges of the first half. Yet their deficiencies were mostly in defence. It was rare to see one of Benítez's teams playing with such little cohesion and structure. They badly missed John Terry – not the fading Terry who had struggled against Rubin Kazan last Thursday but the indomitable organiser of old.
Agüero, a constant menace, doubled the lead with a perfectly angled header from Gareth Barry's cross and it took Chelsea time to shake their heads clear. After 67 minutes, David Luiz's long ball went over Vincent Kompany and Ba swivelled away from Matija Nastasic to hook his shot past Pantilimon.
Benítez will reflect on other opportunities but Hart's replacement saved brilliantly at Mata's feet, kept out another effort from Ba and Mancini now has to decide whether he keeps with him for the final.