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Manchester City v Chelsea: City's Early Edge Enough

For much of this FA Cup semi-final it appeared as though Manchester City would not have to move beyond third gear. Yes, they were purposeful and played with a confidence when in attack, but so little was the threat from Chelsea that discussion regarding the decision to start Costel Pantilimon over Joe Hart was in danger of becoming a moot point, given he was involvement in the first half was merely one of a spectator.

Was Chelsea anonymous first forty-five minutes a result of their midweek trip to Russia; energy sapped and tired bodies and minds, or a lack of leadership and presence with none of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in the starting line-up? The threat that the trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar can provide is an obvious one but in the opening 45 minutes Chelsea were reduced to jus two shots on target, both from distance and City's passing were crisper and delivered with greater purpose.

And when Sergio Aguero put City two goals to the good just two minutes into the second half the game appeared as good as won. Chelsea, however, suddenly found a way back, as if the jolt of Aguero's header had awoken them from their slumber. Fernando Torres was introduced, replacing John Obi Mikel, and Chelsea immediately pulled a goal back. A direct ball was well controlled by Demba Ba, who turned smartly and calmly finished beyond Pantilimon. The goal roused Chelsea and buoyed on by their support they pushed City back. Despite the presence of the 'three amigos' it was a more direct route that they profited from; both Vincent Kompany and Matina Nastasic unsettled and both City's possession and pass completion numbers tumbled as Chelsea laid siege.

As Rafa Benitez said post-game, Chelsea suddenly had 'more determination, more confidence and played better with the ball'. The match became an absorbing contest. Roberto Mancini replaced attackers Samir Nasri and Carlos Tevez, bringing on Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott as Chelsea pressed. The first half shot count was reversed and Pantilimon justified his selection, saving bravely at the feet of Demba Ba, and he used his considerable height to his advantage to thwart a number of Chelsea balls into the box.

There was controversy too, Rafa Benitez claiming that Chelsea should have been awarded what was a 'clear penalty' when Torres and Kompany tangled and had a penalty been given (and a possible red card) extra-time would have loomed. Sergio Aguero too was perhaps also fortunate, appearing to stamp on David Luiz in the final minutes as the game closed with an edge.

City held firm though, deserving winners (as Mancini insisted) on the whole, and they now have the opportunity to make it three consecutive seasons with a major trophy and another feather in the cap of Roberto Mancini.