sprint duel with England team-mate Danny Welbeck but even though the Reds’ surge forward continued, it faltered with a poor touch by Nani at the edge of the box. The Portuguese winger looked rusty at this point in the game, perhaps understandably after not playing since the original meeting at Old Trafford three weeks ago. But Nani still provided Petr Cech with his first test, a teasing free-kick cross which the Chelsea giant just managed to punch away.
At the other end, David Luiz curled a set-piece high over the crossbar, not long after his namesake David De Gea used his legs to save the match’s first shot on target, from Demba Ba in the 31st minute. Javier Hernandez could have beaten Ba to it had he not slipped at the point of pulling the trigger, after cutting into the penalty area at pace from the right wing. Longer range efforts from Nani at one end and Eden Hazard at the other did not require action from the goalkeepers, but Cech made an unorthodox save with his right foot when De Gea found Chicharito with a kick from his hands and the Mexican’s resulting 20-yard shot took a wicked swerve.
Jones made an early attempt to up the ante after the interval, drawing a foul from David Luiz in a dangerous position but Nani’s free-kick went straight into the wall. Moments later, Chelsea drew first blood when Mata floated a fine ball over the top and Ba hooking a superb right-foot volley into the top left-hand corner with De Gea rooted to the spot. For the first time in this drawn-out quarter-final, United were losing – and Tom Cleverley also lost his cool momentarily, clattering into Ramires and earning Phil Dowd’s first yellow card of the day. The second caution wasn’t long in coming, with Ryan Bertrand cynically chopping down Chicharito as United tried to break out from a spell under the cosh.