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Hakim Ziyech fires Chelsea into FA Cup final to end City’s quadruple dream

Jacob Steinberg at Wembley
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Adam Davy/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Adam Davy/Reuters

Thomas Tuchel laid the trap and Manchester City walked straight into it. Pep Guardiola could have no complaints about the end of his side’s hopes of winning an unprecedented quadruple. This was no smash and grab from Chelsea, who defended superbly, used the ball intelligently and clinically targeted City’s weaknesses to reach the FA Cup final thanks to a deft counterattacking goal from Hakim Ziyech.

It is rare for City, who lost Kevin De Bruyne to an ankle injury, to be outfoxed so comprehensively. Yet Chelsea chose well when they turned to Tuchel after firing Frank Lampard in January. Tuchel is one of the smartest tacticians around and the German deserves immense credit after coming up with a shrewd plan to outwit Guardiola for the first time in six matches.

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Make no mistake, City will be relieved to be facing Tottenham rather than Chelsea when they return to Wembley for the Carabao Cup final next weekend. Although Guardiola’s side can still end the season with three trophies, this was a disappointment. They were insipid in attack and the sight of De Bruyne limping off at the start of the second half increased the problems for Guardiola, who needs the Belgian to recover in time to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-finals later this month.

City were desperately short of ideas once De Bruyne went off for Phil Foden after 48 minutes. While they turned the screw in the closing stages, it was hard to argue with the result. Chelsea were solid at the back and they had a clear idea in attack, punching at City’s high line by using Timo Werner’s speed on the break.

Werner was excellent. The German forward has struggled at times during his first year in England, often faltering in front of goal, but his performance here showed why Tuchel likes him. He sniped at City’s defenders throughout and he left his mark on the game in the 55th minute, beating the offside trap before teeing up Ziyech.

As Ziyech finished off a move instigated by Mason Mount, it was clear to see why Tuchel has continued to resist calls to play a more conventional striker. For all the fretting over Tuchel’s refusal to include Tammy Abraham on a nine-man bench, Chelsea’s attack impressed. It took a couple of tight offside calls to keep the scoreline down.

Victory did not flatter Chelsea, who have made rapid progress since appointing Tuchel. They were a shambles when they hosted City in the Premier League at the start of January, defending abysmally and falling three goals behind inside the first 30 minutes. Now they are in the Cup final and the last four of the Champions League, vindicating their decision to replace Lampard with Tuchel.

Control is the theme for Chelsea these days. Solid in a 3-4-2-1 system, they are organised and difficult to breach. Kepa Arrizabalaga, starting in goal in place of Édouard Mendy, barely had anything to do until saving Rodri’s late header.

It helped that Chelsea were prepared to deal with City’s high press during the early stages. Jorginho fulfilled his duties in midfield, accepting the ball in difficult positions and setting the tempo, while N’Golo Kanté was full of energy alongside him.

There was much to admire about Chelsea’s approach. They had a lot of early possession and they found cracks in City’s defence when Werner broke in the sixth minute, sprinting clear before crossing for Ziyech to fire past Zack Steffen.

Although the flag went up for offside against Werner, it was encouraging for Chelsea. Their wing-backs, Reece James and Ben Chilwell, provided plenty of width. Ziyech soon found James, who crossed from the right for Chilwell to volley wide at the far post.

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Chelsea were causing problems. City, who made eight changes after beating Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, looked uncertain, with Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Gabriel Jesus offering little up front. Guardiola’s concerns increased when De Bruyne pulled up injured. City lacked spark in the final third, summed up by Sterling’s wastefulness when he wasted a chance to test César Azpilicueta by running straight into him. It was a tired display and City were fortunate not to go down to 10 men when Fernandinho appeared to stamp on the indefatigable Mount.

It has not been an easy season for Sterling, who has fallen out of favour in recent months, and his indecisiveness looked even worse when Chelsea scored moments later.

For Tuchel, the goal was reward for his attacking formula. Werner was always hovering on the shoulder of the last defender and he timed his run perfectly when Mount sent him clear. City were all over the place and when Steffen came off his line Werner rolled the ball across to give Ziyech a tap-in.

Chelsea refused to sit on their lead. Ziyech spurned another chance by shooting straight at Steffen, and Christian Pulisic had a goal disallowed for offside after coming off the bench.

It could have been costly when City stirred following Ilkay Gündogan’s introduction. Chelsea dropped back, trusting in Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger to stand firm. The pressure was relentless and Silva had to make way for Kurt Zouma. When Sterling fired over, though, City’s fight faded.