It's difficult to know where to begin. What's certain is that Chelsea aren't going to cough up their FA Cup without a fight. Given the most difficult draw possible in a trip to Manchester United as well as a self-inflicted two-goal handicap, the Blues somehow emerged from Old Trafford unfortunate not to get a victory. Their 2-2 draw was both thoroughly unexpected and incredibly encouraging.
The first half was the opposite. With John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Eden Hazard all consigned to the subsitutes' bench, it wasn't a huge shock that the match began in disastrous fashion. Javier Hernandez managed to convert a wonderful diagonal pass from Michael Carrick into a goal, with Petr Cech and Gary Cahill left stranded by the striker's looping header.
There was worse to come. Victor Moses conceded a foul near the edge of the penalty box, and Wayne Rooney's delivery evaded everyone and crept into the far corner. Ten minutes in, and Chelsea were down 2-0. It would have been enough to drive me to drink if I hadn't been utterly tanked on gin already. Thanks, lineups!
At that point, United appeared to let up a bit, allowed a bedraggled Chelsea to regroup. Slowly, Juan Mata and Oscar were able to reassert control of the match, and by the end of the first half Blues fans could reasonably have considered their side unfortunate to have been two goals back -- although they did have Cech to thank for a fantastic double save against Rooney and David Luiz to keep the deficit at two.
But for all of their industry, Chelsea failed to create anything particularly threatening, forcing Rafa Benitez into drastic action just after halftime. Off came Moses and Lampard, and in their place appeared Hazard and Mikel. If the original team selection was off, that aggressive double substitution fixed it in a big way. Suddenly, the Blues weren't just in control -- they were entirely dominant.
Hazard had had a nightmare in Bucharest, but he was on top of his game this time around. The Belgian wasted no time in getting Chelsea on the board, notching with a brilliant effort just seven minutes after coming onto the pitch. With Rafael in close attendance, Hazard cut inside at the top of the box and sent a sublime curling effort past David de Gea and into the top corner.
That goal gave Chelsea hope, and in the 68th minute, Ramires consummated the promise the Blues had shown with a superb counterattacking goal. David Luiz got things started with an interception, and Oscar eventually fed hit compatriot on the edge of the area. Ramires had plenty of work to do, but his cutback gave him time and space to shoot and although David de Gea got a hand to the ball he couldn't keep it from finding the bottom corner.
And from then on, Chelsea were rampant. Despite the introduction of Robin van Persie, United didn't have the legs for a protracted fight, and were desperately lucky not to have conceded again before the final whistle. Indeed, they were forced into drastic measures, with Rio Ferdinand apparently forced to maul Fernando Torres off the ball for reasons that the FA will doubtless say were totally legitimate.
Chelsea had their chances to win, of course, and if not for a stupendous save from de Gea on Juan Mata's goalbound shot they'd be heading to Wembley for the semfinals. As it stands, however, we're due a replay at Stamford Bridge. All things considered, things could have gone far, far worse.