ChelseaÔÇÖs love affair with the FA Cup continues. This was a huge victory for the holders, a result that lends lustre to a strange season, a win rooted in the brilliance of Demba Ba at connecting with a dropping ball.
Fittingly, BaÔÇÖs goal was watched by the 88-year-old Roy Bentley, the legendary Chelsea forward who himself scored a spectacular goal to knock Manchester United out of the Cup at the same quarter-final stage back in 1950.
UnitedÔÇÖs manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, had warned his players of BaÔÇÖs threat, reminding them of the hooked finish that the Senegalese striker scored against them at St JamesÔÇÖ Park on Jan 4, 2012. Rio Ferdinand was caught out that day by BaÔÇÖs movement and was second best again.
Also indebted to Petr CechÔÇÖs remarkable save from Javier Hernandez, Chelsea were well worth the passage to an April 14 semi-final date with Manchester City, keeping alive the possibility of a fifth FA Cup in seven seasons.
Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar all impressed in the second half, opening FergusonÔÇÖs side up with their fluid movement.
Missing the injured Wayne Rooney, United were disappointing, looking slightly tired, and lacking imagination. Really only Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and David De Gea performed well. Nani was particularly poor.
As their Double dream ended, United paid the price for not finishing Chelsea off when leading the original tie by two goals at Old Trafford, a point made in florid language by the Matthew Harding Upper and Lower at the final whistle.
Fighting to regain a place in the Champions League, Chelsea fans inevitably celebrated this victory secured by Ba.
In design and execution, BaÔÇÖs glorious goal early in the second period came in stark contrast to a first half of minimal incident. With Roy Hodgson looking on, Jones had worked well in midfield closing down Hazard, Mata and Oscar. Welbeck was lively, running at such speed past Ashley Cole that the England left-backÔÇÖs hamstring gave way.
For 49 minutes, Ferdinand looked untroubled, reading the game well, ignoring the Chelsea chants of ÔÇ£EnglandÔÇØ. UnitedÔÇÖs sizeable following vented their spleen at John Terry, who was warming up. At least there was peace between the dug-outs with a handshake between Ferguson and Rafa Benitez.
All the while, Ba was seeking to elude Chris Smalling and Ferdinand. Just after the half-hour, Hazard slipped the ball right to Ba, whose low shot was cleared by De GeaÔÇÖs feet. Cech also managed a save with his boots, repelling a shot from Hernandez that moved like a beach ball through the air.
The game came to life four minutes after the break. The build-up to BaÔÇÖs decisive strike began with Chelsea doing well to stifle a United surge down the right.
Nani backheeled the ball into the path of Valencia, who charged forward, eventually running into an ambush staged by John Obi Mikel and ColeÔÇÖs replacement, Ryan Bertrand. Mikel slid in and nicked the ball away from Valencia. Bertrand collected the loose ball and squared it to Ramires.
Mata took RamiresÔÇÖ pass through the middle, turned and picked out Hazard on the left. The Belgian moved inside, the ball bewitched at his feet, before he slid it across to Mata. United were slow to press and Welbeck stood slightly off the Spaniard. Mata can fashion chances even in the most cramped of spaces so giving him a couple of yards to exploit was dangerous.
Ba had already made his move, breaking into the box, feinting as if to change direction and gaining a yard on Ferdinand. Mata spotted the run and delivered the ball with a beautiful left-footed pass ahead of Ferdinand and in front of Ba, who never took his eyes off the ball. With Ferdinand trailing, Ba stretched out his right foot to guide the ball past De Gea.
It was a masterpiece of technique, balance and concentration. On the bench, Benitez turned away in quiet celebration. John TerryÔÇÖs vocal response was rather louder.
United would surely respond. ItÔÇÖs in their nature. They tried to rally but were denied by an unbelievable piece of goalkeeping by Cech on the hour. Welbeck crossed from the right, targeting Hernandez who had escaped from Cesar Azpilicueta.
The MexicanÔÇÖs scoring record against Chelsea is good, and he directed his header back past the diving Cech, seemingly into the net.
Cech, recovering incredibly, stretched out his left hand to claw the ball up and just over the bar. It was a save so good that tributes even flowed from those with United connections. Peter Schmeichel tweeted ÔÇ£what a saveÔÇØ. Hernandez himself could only smile at Cech in astonishment and admiration.
Ferguson immediately sent on Robin Van Persie for Tom Cleverley and then Ryan Giggs for Nani. Jones went to right-back, Valencia pushed on, Welbeck was spending more time on the left as United were almost 4-2-4 at times. As United pushed forward, space opened up for Chelsea.
Hazard darted through but placed his left-footed shot wide. Jones then dispossessed Hazard with a sliding tackle.
United still had chances to force extra time. Van Persie was presented with the type of opportunity he was putting away effortlessly earlier in the season. The ball arrowed to his left foot but he skied his shot. Hernandez headed GiggsÔÇÖ cross wide.
Then Van Persie headed over Ashley YoungÔÇÖs cross. After four minutes of added time, Phil DowdÔÇÖs final whistle was drowned out by Chelsea fans.
Twenty minutes, as the stadium had largely emptied, Bentley walked around the pitch. Frank Lampard, who was doing some sprints in the middle, spotted Bentley and ran across to embrace him, to celebrate another reminder of ChelseaÔÇÖs passion for the FA Cup.