It only took five minutes for Manchester United to draw first blood against their rivals Chelsea in today's quarterfinal FA Cup match. Michael Carrick drove a great ball over the Chelsea defense which found Javier Hernandez's head. Instead of heading it down, as forwards are taught, the Mexican striker lofted the ball over Petr Cech and into the far corner of the net to put United up 1-0.
Six minutes later, the match felt like it was over when United's Wayne Rooney bent a free kick into the area from just outside the left corner of the box. Chelsea's defense was shoddy the entire first half, and both Chelsea centerback David Luiz and new boy Demba Ba whiffed on their attempts to head the ball from danger. It took one bounce in the six and skidded far post to put the home side up 2-0. A few minutes later, United almost went up three goals when Luiz mistakenly headed a ball on his own goal instead of over the crossbar. Only a wonder save from Petr Cech kept the match from being effectively over at halftime.
The second half, however, was a different game. Chelsea star Eden Hazard subbed on in the 52nd minute and scored seven minutes later on a ridiculous bending strike from outside the penalty area. Seriously, have a look:
Nonsense. Gus Johnson pissed himself. Anyway, Ramires tied the game for Chelsea when he slotted home the final pass from a quick Chelsea counter attack, and the away side almost stole the game outright from United at the end of the match when Juan Mata brought down a long pass over the top from Luiz, cut inside on United defender Johnny Evans and shot from the edge of the six-yard-box. Only a kick save from goalkeeper David de Gea kept Chelsea from advancing to the semifinals.
The two English giants ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes, and FA Cup rules mandate a replay. The deciding game will be played at Chelsea's home, Stamford Bridge, sometime this month. The match, however, hasn't been scheduled yet because Chelsea is still competing midweek in the Europa League.
More important news, however, at least as far as the Premier League is concerned, is that the winner of the match will play Manchester City in the tournament semifinal. Wigan Athletic, who advanced along with City yesterday after defeating Everton 3-0, will play the winner of the Blackburn/Milwall matchup, which is being replayed on Wednesday.
If you've been following, you already know what this means. The post-Tim Howard apocalypse is here.
The FA Cup is important not just because it's an old, large domestic tournament. It's important because the winner of the FA Cup automatically qualifies for the Europa League, a continental club tournament. England is provided three Europa League spots every year: one for the Capital One Cup winner, one for the FA Cup winner, and one for the fifth-best Premier League team. However, it gets murky if an FA Cup champion also qualifies for the Champions League, because then the runner-up qualifies. If the runner-up qualifies, too, then the third Europa slot goes to the sixth-best finish in the Premier League.
Swansea, a Welsh midtable team in the Premier League, already qualified through the Capital One Cup. Manchester City will play either Chelsea or Manchester United in the semifinals. As of now, all are likely to make the Champions League and skip out on the Europa League bid. That means that 18th-place Premier side Wigan, or either Blackburn or Milwall, who are both currently in the bottom half of England's second-best league, are guaranteed to make the final. And that means that one of the weaker sides will go to the Europa League. And that means that there will only be one Europa League slot open through Premier League play.
With only nine or ten games to go depending on schedules, there are seven or eight different teams that could realistically end up in fifth place—or better, or worse—by the end of the season. The only team that is a virtual lock for European qualification is United, who have all but run away with the league. After them, it's a bottleneck. Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and West Brom could all play themselves into one of the remaining three Champions League spots or the sole Europa League spot through a Premier League bid. Even Swansea could make the Champions League, because fuck it. Chelsea, Tottenham and randomly Newcastle United are still in this year's Europa League and could feasibly win a European berth through winning the tournament this year. Arsenal are still in the Champions League, though they feasibly will not.
None of this makes any sense and no one know what's going to happen, but odds are your team will let you down.