On radio shortly before the game Ruud Gullit stated that Chelsea were capable of matching Manchester United's quality and application. This proved to be a great deal further from the truth than Chelsea's coach imagined.
Gullit later expressed pride in his team's second-half resolve but that was all he had to look back on. The three goals Chelsea scored late in the game put an entirely false slant on proceedings.
Even people with very little experience of watching football could not have failed to see that Alex Ferguson's team were not only superior in every department, but that Chelsea have a great deal to do before they can even think of being compared with the English champions.
For as long as United maintained the intensity that is such a vital element in their play, Chelsea were not going anywhere. Short of one or two key players maybe, but people forget that United have been without the Premier League's most effective midfielder, Roy Keane, since the start of the season.
Some of Chelsea's recent performances, especially the League defeat at Southampton last week suggests that exaggerated claims have been made for them. Denied time and space in midfield to develop the passing game Gullit promotes they look ordinary.
When Ferguson said that his players were right up for the match you also knew they went into it with clear ideas of how to go about things; a tight midfield that could be expanded quickly to launch counter-attacks, more tactical nous than Chelsea could call on and industry to delight their demanding manager.
Ferguson could afford to be generous in assessment because when Chelsea fell three goals down before the interval they had no chance of repairing the damage. Outfought and outplayed in midfield where Nicky Butt was quite outstanding for United they had no proper alternatives to fall back on.
In dismissing the idea that he might have been guilty of a tactical aberration, Gullit made much of his belief that too many players fell short of the standard he has come to expect from them. There was a lot more to it than that, so perhaps the heavy cold that almost caused Chelsea's coach to stay in bed had some effect on his judgement.
Gambling in defence had something to do with Chelsea going three down but United's finishing was deadly. Two more after after half-time made the 5-3 scoreline incidental. It wasn't a comeback, simply that United stopped doing some of the things that had given them total command of a fiercely contested Cup tie.
By the interval, when some of their supporters could be seen leaving, Chelsea were forced to take desperate measures. They sent out a three- man defence and Mark Hughes up front where his strength and commitment could be employed more effectively.
United did not make the mistake of showboating after taking a five-goal lead - Ryan Giggs' through pass for the fourth was a beauty and Andy Cole's finish testimony to a man bang in form - however Chelsea began to take advantage of the space that was conceded. "It left us with something to think about," Ferguson said, doubtless considering that United will be back at Stamford Bridge next month for a Premiership game.
That is another of the reasons why United have come to dominate English football. No matter how well they do there is always room for improvement. "We can get better," Ferguson said.
If the FA Cup falls behind the European and Premier League championships in Ferguson's list of priorities nobody should think it ridiculous that they can win all three. That is the extent of United's superiority.Reuse content