The Blues march into the semi-finals of the FA Cup and a Wembley date with Manchester City as Demba Ba scored the only goal of the game to overcome Manchester United.
After a fairly quiet opening 45 minutes, Ba broke the deadlock early in the second half when he raced on to an intelligent Juan Mata pass and crashed a first-time volley beyond David de Gea and into the top corner.
Petr Cech pulled off a magnificent stop to deny Javier Hernandez shortly after as United looked to hit back, before Eden Hazard and Juan Mata both went close.
In the end, however, we ran out deserved winners, and offered the perfect response to Saturday’s defeat at Southampton.
You simply cannot back against us in the FA Cup, and we now turn our attention towards Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final against Rubin Kazan.
With the game coming less than 48 hours after Saturday’s defeat at Southampton, Rafael Benitez understandably made a number of changes, with only Cech, Branislav Ivanovic John Mikel Obi and Oscar retaining their places in the side.
David Luiz and Ashley Cole came into the back four, with John Terry and Ryan Bertrand dropping down to the bench, while in midfield Ramires replaced Frank Lampard. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard were both handed starts, at the expense of Victor Moses and Marko Marin, and in attack Ba was preferred to Fernando Torres.
For Manchester United, there was no Wayne Rooney, while Robin van Persie started on the bench.
With both sides eager not to surrender the early initiative, much of the opening 15 minutes was played in midfield, with goalscoring opportunities at both ends proving elusive.
The visitors appeared content to get men behind the ball and look to hit us on the break, and it almost paid dividends when Danny Welbeck was left isolated with Ivanovic, although the Serbian deserved credit for the manner in which he dispossessed the striker.
The first moment of worry for the Blues came in the 20th minute when Cole pulled up with what looked like a hamstring problem as he challenged for the ball with Welbeck. It was instantly clear the left-back was in serious trouble, and so it proved as after a quick assessment he was withdrawn from the action and replaced by Bertrand.
As the half-hour mark approached we tested David de Gea for the first time in the game as Hazard fed Ba, but the ‘keeper denied the Senegalese international low down with his feet.
Moments later we were awarded a free-kick just outside the penalty area, but David Luiz’s effort was high and harmless.
Eight minutes before the break United had their first attempt on goal, although it was a speculative effort from distance by Nani, who watched it fizz wide of Cech’s left-hand post, while Hazard fired narrowly over the bar at the other end.
The creative players on show, on both sides, had struggled to exert their influence during the opening 40 minutes, but Cech was forced into an unconventional save to thwart Javier Hernandez as the striker’s long-range strike appeared to hit a divot and almost wrong-footed the Chelsea goalkeeper.
Two minutes before half-time the visitors thought they had a legitimate claim for a penalty after Bertrand and Antonio Valencia tangled inside the box. Phil Dowd gave the Blues substitute the benefit of the doubt, and replays suggested he’d called it correctly.
Both teams emerged for the second half unchanged, and within three minutes of the restart we were in front.
Mata picked the ball up deep inside the United half and played a brilliant ball over the head of Rio Ferdinand, where Ba raced on to it and volleyed spectacularly on the turn past the stranded De Gea.
It was a goal of the highest quality and gave us the perfect start to the second half, as well as a deserved lead.
If the first half had been a relatively timid affair, the second was shaping up to be anything but, and Tom Cleverley became the first player to be booked for a nasty lunge on Ramires.
Ba again went close, this time with a header, after some good work by Ramires and Hazard, and on the hour mark Cech pulled off one of the saves of the season to maintain our lead, somehow diverting a point-blank Hernandez header over the bar as everybody inside Stamford Bridge waited for the net to bulge.
Unsurprisingly, Alex Ferguson, sensing the need for a change, introduced Van Persie at the expense of Cleverley, while soon after Ryan Giggs replaced the largely ineffective Nani as the away side looked to get back in the game.
In the 66th minute Hazard was presented with a glorious chance to double our advantage, pouncing on a wayward pass by Michael Carrick and racing clean through, only to drag his shot agonisingly wide of De Gea’s post.
The Blues were looking dangerous on the break, and United were having problems dealing with the movement of Hazard, Mata and Oscar as the trio drifted between the lines while searching for openings.
The visitors, however, were still seeing plenty of the ball, and while we were largely limiting them to shots from distance, the threat remained.
With 13 minutes left to play Mata fired over from the edge of the penalty area after Bertrand had done well to win the ball back, while soon after United made their final substitution as Ashley Young replaced Welbeck.
Chelsea were defending well, but with three minutes remaining the visitors saw a wonderful chance go begging as Van Persie ghosted into the box and volleyed over from Patrice Evra’s cross.
Almost immediately, we went straight up the other end and came close to putting the game to bed, only for Mata to be denied by De Gea after excellent interchanging between Oscar and Hazard.
Moses, who had replaced Oscar in the final minute of normal time, then had another great chance to finish it, but as he came inside Ferdinand, rather than shooting, he attempted to beat the defender again and lost out.
Over the years United have become notorious for their ability to rescue games late on, but after defending well throughout the game, we deservedly held on for a famous victory in a tournament we have grown to love in recent years.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech (c); Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, David Luiz, Cole (Bertrand 21); Ramires, Mikel Obi; Oscar (Moses), Mata, Hazard; Ba (Torres 90+2).
Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Terry, Lampard, Benayoun.
Scorer Ba 48
Booked Bertrand 58, Azpilicueta 76
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra (c); Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley (Van Persie 61), Nani (Giggs 64); Welbeck (Young 78); Hernandez.
Unused substitutes: Lindegaard, Vermijl, Powell, Kagawa.
Booked Cleverley 53
Referee Phil Dowd