Chelsea beat Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final thanks to Hakim Ziyech’s second-half winning goal
The Moroccan tapped home after Timo Werner’s cutback to end Pep Guardiola’s hopes of a quadruple
The Blues had the better of the chances with Ziyech and Christian Pulisic having goals disallowed for offside
Guardiola’s City barely tested Kepa Arrizabalaga in an off-colour day for the current Premier League leaders
The dream of the quadruple may not have been Pep Guardiola’s but the closer Manchester City got to it, the more precious it had started to seem. The more fragile it had seemed, too.
And the more obvious it had become that all it would take to destroy the prospect of an unprecedented achievement in English football was one bad day. And Saturday happened to be City’s bad day.
Their attempt to become the first English team to win all four major trophies available in a season ended on a cool evening at a near-deserted Wembley when they were outplayed by Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in their FA Cup semi-final and defeated by a fine team goal that was finished off by Hakim Ziyech to give the Blues a deserved a 1-0 win.
“We had reached a stage where everything about City’s wonderful season was being seen through the prism of their epic quest. A countdown to immortality has been going on for some time now and it was possible going into this game that nine more victories could have taken City to the quadruple. That countdown, too, has come to an end.
Greater prizes than the grand old competition of our game still await for City and the disappointment of this loss will fade into insignificance if they can beat PSG in their Champions League semi-final and lift Europe’s biggest club prize in Istanbul on May 29. That is the big one, the one they have never won, the one that opens the door to membership of Europe’s elite in a way that all their money never can.
Their hopes of doing that may have been damaged at Wembley, too. Early in the second half, their best player, Kevin de Bruyne, appeared to twist his ankle in a challenge with N’Golo Kante and was replaced straight away by Phil Foden. City are a team packed with sublime talents but if they are missing De Bruyne for those matches against PSG, they will not feel as optimistic of reaching the final.
They are still hot favourites to win the Premier League title, of course, and they face Spurs in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley next Sunday; so their season is still alive with possibility and promise. The pursuit of four trophies meant that Guardiola had to rotate his squad more and more and his team on Saturday did not rise to the challenge. This semi-final was one game too far.
This was a big victory for Chelsea and the most important triumph yet for Tuchel after he took over from Frank Lampard earlier this season. Chelsea have been on a formidable run since his appointment and they thoroughly deserved this win. Tuchel said in the build-up to the match that Chelsea would hunt City down from the start of next season. They started the chase early.
Chelsea were the better team right from the start. Their passing was more crisp and confident and their movement asked more questions of the opposing defence. One small sign of City’s frustration came in the first few minutes when Fernandinho tangled with Mason Mount and appeared to stamp on him as he lay on the ground. Fernandinho was lucky Mount did not seek to make more of the incident.
Chelsea got better and better as the half wore on and they should have taken the lead after 19 minutes. Hakim Ziyech took the ball on the half turn in midfield and drilled a fine pass out to Reece James on the right. James picked out Ben Chilwell perfectly at the back post and the ball fell invitingly on to his favoured left foot. Chilwell is a fine striker of the ball but he mishit this one and it trickled tamely wide of the post.
City have been so good this season and their squad is so deep that it is difficult to know what their best team is but the longer the half went on, the more obvious it became that this was not it. Ilkay Gundogan and Foden would be in City’s best eleven. So would Ederson but Guardiola had made eight changes from the team that beat Borussia Dortmund last week and it showed.
It was still a strong line-up, of course, and City started to come into the game more towards the end of the first half but it is obvious that Raheem Sterling is struggling for form at the moment and too often, he was snuffed out by Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. Ferran Torres laboured to make any kind of impact, too. He has had a solid first season at the Etihad but nothing more.
The second half was less than two minutes old when City received a potentially grievous blow. De Bruyne was being harassed by Kante near the touchline when he appeared to tread awkwardly and twist his ankle. He grimaced and kicked the ball away and a few seconds later, he sat down on the turf in a gesture of resigned surrender. He was replaced by Foden.
A few minutes later, City went behind and few outside of Manchester could begrudge them the lead. It was a finely crafted goal, too. Mount started the move inside his own half and when Timo Werner made a fine run behind the City defence, Mount found him with a perfectly weighted pass and he ran in on goal.
Werner’s pace took him clear and he saw Ziyech sprinting through the middle. Werner crossed the ball towards him and even though it was slightly behind him, Ziyech was able to check his run and hook the ball into the net with his left foot. It was the goal that Chelsea’s play deserved.
Four minutes later, Chelsea should have gone further ahead. Mount drove a brilliant ball forward towards Ziyech and when Ruben Dias stretched to try to intercept it as it fell over his shoulder, he missed it. Ziyech tried to prod his shot past Zack Steffen with his right foot but it was too close to the goalkeeper and he blocked it with his legs.
As the game wore on and City pressed increasingly desperately for an equaliser, they left gaps at the back for Chelsea to exploit and Werner came close to adding to their lead. He sprinted clear of City’s defence from deep inside his own half and even though he managed to dribble around Benjamin Mendy, his left foot shot was too weak to evade Steffen.
City appealed in vain for a penalty for handball in the closing minutes before they ran out of time. One dream has ended but the pursuit of others is about to gather pace.
Chelsea make it to the 2021 FA Cup final, where they’ll play either Leicester City or Southampton, which sides face off in the oher semis on Sunday.