London: Manchester City out-powered a jaded Chelsea to clinch a 2-1 FA Cup semi-final win and book their second final appearance in three years.
Goals from Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero put City two goals up after 47 minutes but Demba Ba’s hooked volley midway through the second period guaranteed a riveting finale.
City held firm to end Chelsea’s notable run of seven consecutive FA Cup Wembley wins, including final triumphs in four of the six previous seasons.
City are building a creditable record of their own in the world’s oldest cup competition and the 2011 winners remain on course to salvage a trophy from what has been an underwhelming campaign.
Roberto Mancini’s team will be the strong favourites to lift their second cup in three years when they face Wigan Athletic here again in the final on May 11.
Despite Chelsea`s late comeback, City were good value for their second distinguished 2-1 triumph of the week, with Yaya Toure at his buccaneering best in central midfield.
The match was played in good spirit and, thankfully, there was no repeat of the disharmony in the stands that marked Saturday`s semi-final, when Millwall`s fans traded punches with one another while their team slid to defeat to Wigan.
Once again, Rafa Benitez rang the changes to contend with Chelsea’s punishing schedule, making seven alterations to the team that started against Rubin Kazan in Moscow less than 72 hours earlier. Branislav Ivanovic, Ryan Bertrand, John Obi Mikel, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar and Demba Ba came in for John Terry, Paulo Ferreira, Frank Lampard, Yossi Benayoun, Victor Moses, Nathan Ake and Fernando Torres.
By contrast, Roberto Mancini made only two changes from the team that won Monday’s Manchester derby but they were both notable ones. Sergio Aguero replaced the injured David Silva, while Costel Pantilimon was surprisingly given the nod over Joe Hart to maintain his sequence of playing every minute of the club`s FA Cup run this season.
It was all City early on as the 2011 winners carried on from where they had left off at Old Trafford six days earlier.
Aguero and Tevez both came close to scoring but, despite all their dominance, it was Chelsea who nearly took the lead after 23 minutes.
Pantilimon was left stranded after he had raced out of his goal only to get nowhere near Juan Mata’s free kick, but the Romanian’s blushes were spared when Eden Hazard’s volley was cleared off the line by Vincent Kompany.
Toure was at the heart of City’s best moves and it was the big Ivorian who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck after 35 minutes to set up the opening goal.
Spotting a gap in the middle of the vast Wembley pitch, Toure charged forward in the bulldozing manner that only he can and then rolled the ball into the path of Tevez, who laid it off to Nasri. The Frenchman was fortunate that his first touch deflected off Cesar Azpilicueta and back to him but he was utterly ruthless at the second attempt, calmly lifting the ball over Petr Cech.
On the stroke of half-time, Kompany should have prompted a second mass Poznan but, perhaps exhausted after racing upfield to support a counterattack, the City skipper side-footed wide from 15 yards.
Chelsea’s players were first back on the pitch after the break, but once again it was City who were quickest out of the starting blocks.
Two minutes into the second period, Gareth Barry was afforded too much space to float a tantalising cross into the area and Aguero, wrestling free of the attention of Ivanovic and Azpilicueta, accepted the invitation with the most precise of headers. There was not much pace on either Barry’s cross or Aguero’s finish, but the Argentine’s effort was so devastatingly accurate that Cech barely moved a muscle in goal.
Bizarrely, Rafa Benitez waited 16 minutes before introducing Fernando Torres and throwing caution to the wind. It paid immediate dividends.
With two forwards to contend with, City failed to deal with a hopeful long ball and Ba, in a manner reminiscent of his brilliant winner in the quarter-final replay against Manchester United 13 days previously, hooked a splendidly acrobatic volley past Pantimilon.
Suddenly, the comeback was on and City were rocked. Pantilimon was not exactly radiating authority but he did brilliantly block another effort from Ba and then to claw away the ball from Mata just as the Spaniard was about to pull the trigger in the penalty area.
With 10 minutes left, Toure almost made the game safe for City but he shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Aguero was then fortunate to avoid a red card after he appeared to launch into a two-footed lunge on a prone David Luiz. Referee Chris Foy failed to spot the incident, and he was again in Chelsea`s bad books two minutes from time when Kompany pulled the shirt of Torres as the Spaniard bore down on goal.
Hazard fired the Blues` last chance high into the Wembley crowd in stoppage time as Mancini`s men held on to earn their place in the final.