United raced into a two goal lead inside the first ten minutes through Hernandez and Rooney, and then created a plethora of chances in the remainder of the half as they attempted to close out the game. However, Chelsea weathered the first 45 minutes and came out strong in the second half, equalising through Hazard and Ramires, before themselves wasting ample opportunities to cap an arguably deserved comeback win.
With not even 5 minutes on the clock, Javier Hernandez looked like he had banished any demons from Tuesday night as he was on the end of Carrick’s pinpoint pass to loop a header over a stranded Petr Cech. It was testament to the quality of the delivery that the United players went to Carrick first, before congratulating the goal scorer himself. 5 minutes later, Nani was crudely halted at the corner of the box, and Rooney’s shot-cum-shot freekick drifted into the far corner to double the Red Devil’s lead.
Chelsea, despite substantial spells of possession, could barely make an impression in the first half as United, despite not being at their flowing, effervescent best, created several other good chances. Patrice Evra delivered an inviting cutback only for Rooney to shoot straight at Cech, who then had to be at his acrobatic best to tip a goalward bound David Luiz header over the bar. Cleverley also squandered another shooting opportunity.
The second half began as a scrappy affair, before two Chelsea substitutions on 52 minutes changed the nature of the tie. Eden Hazard and John-Obi Mikel came on for Victor Moses and Frank Lampard, and it was Hazard who notched Chelsea’s first goal, with a cleverly curled effort from the corner of the box, that nestled in the top corner. Not only did the Belgian’s strike give Chelsea players hope, it also seemed to startle the United players and, perhaps exhausted physically and mentally from Tuesday’s excursions, they never sufficiently recovered. The visitors were level less than ten minutes later as Ramires, given greater freedom to roam after Mikel’s introduction, burst onto Oscar’s pass, calmly turned onto his left and slotted past David De Gea.
At this point, United seemed to lose their composure, as at times they treated the ball as if it were toxic, constantly returned possession to the Chelsea attacking trio of Mata, Hazard and Oscar who, interchanging at will, swarmed over the beleaguered United defence like flies over a rotting carcass.
In the end, after starting so promisingly, Sir Alex was glad to see his side barely hang on to their place in the semi-final draw as Mata was denied by a brilliant De Gea save, when he looked poised to dump United out of their second cup competition in a week after turning past Jonny Evans inside the box. Hazard also came close to winning the game, but the replay at Stamford Bridge will decide who advances to face Manchester City in the semi-final at Wembley.