Chelsea will head to their second home Wembley for another FA Cup Final in May, after goals from Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard saw the Blues end up comfortable winners against Aston Villa. After a stodgy first-half, the Blues controlled the second period of the semi-final, but the scoreline was slightly harsh on the Midlands side.
Carlo Ancelotti recalled Drogba to the starting line-up after his absence from the first eleven against Manchester United, with Nicolas Anelka dropping to the bench, while Petr Cech was given his first FA Cup start of the season in place of Hilario, who joined Anelka amongst the subs.
Helped – or should that be hindered – by an inconsistent Wembley pitch and a general sense of malaise amongst the starting eleven, Chelsea struggled through a disappointing first-half. In truth, they were lucky to go into half-time at 0-0.
With a number of players slipping on both sides it was hard to see any natural rhythm developing in the match. Joe Cole sent a fizzing shot wide of Brad Friedel’s near post in a rare Chelsea attack of any substance, but the biggest event of the half took place at the other end shortly after.
After James Milner had sent a shot just past the Blues’ goal, Villa maintained their superiority with the ball and launched another attack. The ball was played into the box where Gabriel Agbonlahor wrestled with John Mikel Obi for possession. Attempting to spin Mikel, the pacy forward went down in a tangle of legs, his eyes fixed on referee Howard Webb as he appealed for a penalty. Thankfully for us, Webb refused to bite. Perhaps he had his glare fixed on the handful of Mikel’s shirt which Agbonlahor had.
As Martin O’Neill leapt about on the sidelines like a Grand National winning jockey post-race, the game continued. Chelsea still struggled to find fluency, with the pace pedestrian at best and creative ideas few and far between.
Malouda managed to fashion a chance, crossing low towards Drogba in the box, but the Ivorian’s placed effort was well-blocked by a sprawling Stephen Warnock on the deck.
The half-time whistle was a welcome relief, as tedium threatened to set in.
Thankfully the second-half was much better, despite an early scare as John Carew flashed a close-range header wide. Chelsea began to get more of –and do more with – the ball, with Deco and Cole missing half-chances.
But at least the chances were being created unlike the drab first 45. Cech was comfortable in the Chelsea goal too, plucking balls from the air with no real danger.
Ancelotti saw his side in control and shook things up a bit by bringing Salomon Kalou on for the leg-weary Cole, but it was Kalou’s countryman Drogba who again stole the headlines.
A poor Florent Malouda corner was headed out by Richard Dunne, but the defender’s attempt at a clearance only found John Terry on the edge of the box. Terry shot it back into the mix, with his strike finding Drogba who neatly flicked the ball back across a stranded Friedel and into the net for 1-0.
Terry had come under some flak in the week for claiming that Villa would tire in the second-half, but sure enough they did and Chelsea, keeping it tight at the back and fluid upfront, were rarely troubled.
Anelka and Ballack were brought on for Drogba and Deco – the latter of whom was on a yellow card and could possibly have had about eight if it were possible – and it was the German midfielder who eventually set up a second.
Minutes after delivering a near-perfect cross which wasn’t pounced upon by one of his team-mates, Ballack ignored Kalou who was standing a matter of yards away from him and swung a deep cross into the box. Malouda was waiting at the back-post to finish on his right-foot.
Game over for Villa, but there was still time for Lampard to get in on the act late on. The free-scoring midfielder was set up by Anelka before cutting back on himself and slotting past Friedel.
A convincing scoreline, a solid performance, and another Wembley appearance booked. All in a day’s work for Chelsea.