Impressive link-up play between Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez typified Manchester City's attacking approach in an entertaining FA Cup tie
Attack-minded team selections from both managers contributed to a surprisingly open, entertaining semi-final. Rather than being fielded in the attacking band of three, Yaya Touré and Ramires started in deeper positions where they could charge forward to connect the play, combining with highly technical, creative attacking quartets.
From the outset, Roberto Mancini's side took command in the midfield zone. Whereas Chelsea's side appeared very structured, there was great fluidity from City – the wide players darted inside to receive clever forward passes from the central midfielders, while Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero both came short to collect balls into feet, dragging Chelsea's centre-backs up the pitch and creating space for others to charge into.
The relationship between Agüero and Tevez at City has often been uncertain – Agüero initially made an impact while Tevez was Awol last season, and among Mancini's experimentations with Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, the all-Argentine partnership hasn't always lived up to its potential. Often, it seems to function best without any literal combinations between them: Tevez buzzes around between the lines, forcing the defence up the pitch, while Agüero sprints into the space behind for longer passes. This was different: both demonstrated their link-up ability, collecting forward passes and transferring the ball to James Milner and Samir Nasri, who made forward runs into the box. Mancini has always been reluctant to play natural wingers, preferring his wide players to be more involved in passing moves – and even in the absence of David Silva, this was a great demonstration of his strategy. With Touré moving forward to become the catalyst for City's best attacks – in particular, the opening goal – they carved Chelsea open repeatedly in the first half.
A fast-paced, end-to-end match based around quick transitions was a difficult task for a Chelsea side suffering from serious fixture congestion in recent weeks. City appeared to have an extra burst of acceleration on the break, their players skipped past challenges and entered in the final third rapidly. Only consistently poor decision-making prevented them from extending their two-goal lead.
The introduction of Fernando Torres gave Chelsea extra attacking firepower. Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastastic looked uncomfortable dealing with a second striker, and Chelsea were most threatening with long balls played over the top of the City defence. Demba Ba's acrobatic goal was the most obvious example, but twice Juan Mata dropped deep before lofting passes in behind Kompany – Torres couldn't quite reach the first, then was clumsily brought down by the Belgian and was left appealing for a penalty.
Even as his side were dominated for the majority of the game, Mata remained the most dangerous individual threat – but with Oscar and Eden Hazard unusually quiet, Chelsea were unable to match City's interplay and clever movement.