Chelsea eased into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup Sunday at Stamford Bridge, sweeping aside a profoundly weakened Manchester City side 5-1. Five different players got on the scoresheet for the Blues against a City squad that featured five virtual unknowns. Chelsea will learn their next opponent later on Sunday.
This should have been the marquee tie of the round: instead it summed up how far the FA Cup has tumbled in teams’ estimation. City manager Manuel Pellegrini made no bones about his team’s focus on Europe pre-game, going so far as to tell fans thinking of travelling to London that he would be playing his kids. And, true to his word, he did, fielding a gaggle of little-known players with squad numbers in the 70s alongside some faded old heads like Willy Caballero.
From the outset, the kids were all right – it was the old heads who were dreadful. Caballero and Martin Demichelis both made terrible errors during the game, while local Manchester youngster Tosin Adarabioyo looked assured in the back and the combination of Kelechi Iheanacho and David Faupala up top had some spark. Faupala shocked Thibaut Courtois early with a speculative, swerving effort that keeper didn’t seem to read well, and would ultimately get on the scoresheet.
Yet Chelsea’s class showed against a team that candidly was just fulfilling the fixture. Cesc Fabregas was a dynamic presence in the middle, springing Pedro and Eden Hazard on opposite flanks, and acting as a fulcrum high up the field. Cesc and Pedro nearly combined for the opener in the 13th, with a simple square ball that Pedro drove on to, but his chip over the beaten Caballero came back off the far post and away.
Chelsea kept the pressure on, and when their goal came, off a well-worked play, it felt totally deserved. Again, Cesc was creator, pushing a ball through the City back line to Hazard, who drove the ball from the endline to a wide-open Diego Costa. Costa had Caballero scrambling, and he headed the ball back across the face of goal, cleanly beating him.
But minutes later, City showed some class of their own. Manu Garcia and Ihenacho ran a neat one-two through Chelsea’s somewhat dozy defense, and Faupala was able to get goalside of Cesar Azpilicueta at the far post for a tap-in. The goal enraged the Chelsea supporters, and Andre Marriner was seen picking up a number of coins thrown from the crowd near the corner flag in an ugly incident.
After the break, Chelsea struck back. Willian and Hazard exploited the slow Demichelis in the 48th minute, with Hazard’s pinpoint pass slicing through a City line that were sitting too high up. Willian coasted through the trap and finished coolly to the far corner.
Gary Cahill would then end the game as a contest in the 53rd minute, smashing a poor clearance back through the defense and past a helpless Caballero. Fernando made a hash of a routine corner kick, allowing Cahill an easy chance from inside the penalty area.
Hazard then scored a rare goal of his own in the 65th, punishing Demichelis for a silly tackle that gifted Chelsea a free-kick just atop the area. Hazard, who has been in terrible form this season, lifted his shot up and over the wall, exploiting Caballero, who was out of position and should have had that corner covered.
Oscar had a chance to pad the lead from the spot after Demichelis was penalized for shoving Bernard Traore in the back, but Caballero made amends, diving the right way to push the ball out around the back.
But Caballero made a hash of another play late when he allowed a looping header from Traore to creep under his own bar. It was a foolish misjudgment of a ball that wasn’t even intended as a shot on target, and it summed up the keeper’s day.