Rafa Benitez celebrated on field with the players on Sunday after two inspiring substitutions led the team to claw back a two goal deficit and take the quarter final clash to a replay at Stamford Bridge, but most impressive was the fight back showed on Sunday that has been elusive in recent memory and will be crucial in the season’s run-in of games to secure a top four finish.
Chelsea have been the culprits this season in squandering two goal leads and was rather different narrative to return the favour on somebody else.
The match was reminiscent of when the two sides met previously this season in the league match at Stamford Bridge with the conceding of two goals before taking a hold of the game and ending as the better team.
Manchester United reached a breakthrough early on thanks to a headed effort by Hernandez meeting a measured lofted pass from Michael Carrick, leaving Gary Cahill unguarded and luring Petr Cech into a sense of indecision. Though Cech was looking vulnerable in isolation when the ball nestled into the far past, he perhaps would have been scrambling across his goal mouth should he have remained rooted on his goal line such was the quality of the finish.
The opening goal was followed shortly by Wayne Rooney’s cross-come-shot free kick evading everyone in the process, before the remainder of the first half saw both sides to have chances to exploit without converting.
The second half told different story. Benitez moved quickly to haul off the ineffective Frank Lampard and allowed Obi Mikel to retain possession and offer coverage for the bombardment of attacking players, whilst Eden hazard, currently in good form, provided dynamism instead of the direct running of Victor Moses.
It can be argued the second half setup should have been the starting line-up. Equally as important in fielding your strongest side however, is also rectifying your mistakes to conjure a positive result.
Benitez’s decision allowed the team to gain control of possession, achieving quick turnover when losing the ball and adding extra thrust when moving forwards. The free flow of the forward movement and the pressure heaped in the final third was both eye catching and a throwback of what was seen at the beginning of the season.
The performance in that second half more than anything else showed the players can match any side and control a game with the fighting spirit demonstrated of which will now be needed for the rest of the season. This added with consistency will give Chelsea the upper-hand in the quest for the elite European football competition next season.
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