MANCHESTER: Resilient Chelsea put Manchester United in their place on Wednesday with a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford that secured an English League Cup final date with Liverpool next month.
Ireland winger Damien Duff scored the decisive goal with a floated free-kick five minutes from time which deceived the United defence after Ryan Giggs had cancelled out Chelsea’s first-half opener by Frank Lampard in a storming semi-final second leg match.
It gave Jose Mourinho’s side a 2-1 aggregate victory and the runaway Premier League leaders will now face Liverpool at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Feb 27.
Liverpool booked their place with a 1-0 win over Second Division Watford on Tuesday.
The defeat was United’s first in a domestic Cup semi-final for 30 years and it showed the grit of the London side, who are 10 points clear at the top of the league.
Victory was extra sweet for Mourinho, who was celebrating his 42nd birthday on Wednesday. His Porto side also eliminated United from the Champions League last season with a last-minute goal at Old Trafford.
He will now go to Cardiff seeking his first piece of silverware in English football.
Mourinho, however, will not let Chelsea’s growing success on all fronts to distract him from winning the one trophy he craves this season – the Premier League title.
“The mission is only complete if at the end of the season we get a trophy and I hope the trophy is the Premiership,” said Mourinho.
“If we can do it and reaching the (League) Cup final and do well in the Champions League – and we will also try to do something in the FA Cup – that’s great but the Premiership is our main objective.
“In the Premiership the best team wins. In the Champions League, when you get to the knockout stage you also need a bit of luck.
“But in the Premiership the best team over the 38 matches wins. It’s more significant and in the (club’s) centenary year, 50 years after (Chelsea’s last league title), it would be a fantastic achievement for the club.”
Mourinho won the Champions League last season with Porto, and the way Chelsea withstood a United onslaught in the second half on Wednesday bore the hallmark of future champions. The Portuguese knew it.
“The mentality, the strength, the personality – we left a message here that the boys are magnificent and we are ready to win the championship,” he said.
Chelsea were at full strength but curiously, United’s Alex Ferguson opted to play Louis Saha as a lone attacker from the start, leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench.
United monopolised early possession but failed to create a clear opportunity and were then stung on the break.
Dutch winger Arjen Robben was the instigator, cutting infield and feeding Didier Drogba down the left. The Ivory Coast striker stepped inside Gary Neville before feeding the ball to the onrushing, unmarked Lampard whose cross-shot flew into the corner of the net with United’s defence nowhere.
Chelsea did not deserve to be in front but the goal deflated United and they finished the half frustrated and with two rejected penalty shouts the sum total of their efforts.
United came out after the interval with eyes bulging and laid siege to the Chelsea goal.
Claude Makelele was lucky to stay on the pitch after swinging a boot at United winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
For all the home side’s vigour it was Chelsea who almost scored next when goalkeeper Tim Howard denied the outstanding Lampard with his fingertips and Robben with an out-stretched boot in quick succession.
Those saves proved crucial. United, with Rooney adding further purpose to their attack, levelled the scores in spectacular style midway through the second period when Giggs delicately flicked a neat, left-footed cross by Gary Neville over Chelsea keeper Petr Cech with the outside of his boot.
Extra time beckoned until Duff lofted over a free-kick from the right and it eluded everybody, bouncing into the net off the woodwork.
The visitors still needed a goal line clearance by Wayne Bridge and a superb Cech save from Ronaldo, though, before securing their tickets to Cardiff.
The last time United lost a semi-final in the FA Cup or League Cup was in 1975, when Norwich City beat them over two legs in the League Cup. – Reuters