Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Wembley/May 19, 2018
This match presents both Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United and Antonio Conte’s Chelsea the opportunity to end the season on a ‘high’ and save a little bit of face. Both these teams have performed below expectations this season with both teams finishing 19 and 30 points respectively behind newly-crowned Premier League champions Manchester City. Antonio Conte will be hoping his team shows up at Wembley on Saturday after the way they were woefully beaten by Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. While Chelsea were getting walloped by Newcastle United, Manchester United was scraping by against Watford at Old Trafford but on Saturday both these team would know they’re playing for the prestigious trophy that will be on offer on Saturday. Jose Mourinho knows how to play these games and all we Blues fans are hoping for is that Antonio Conte learned something from his team’s defeat at the same stage last season.
Jose Mourinho is the manager Antonio Conte has beaten the most since his arrival in England prior to the beginning of the 2016/2017 Premier League season having won three of the five matches against the Portuguese including one in the quarter-finals of last season’s FA Cup campaign that ultimately ended in disappointment at the last hurdle. The match tomorrow will be the 180th meeting involving these two giants of English football with Chelsea recording 53 wins, 49 draws and 77 losses, including the last time these two teams met back in February, from the previous 179 matches between them. Chelsea has dominated this fixture in recent times however having lost just two of the last fifteen matches against Manchester United (W8 D5) but this sort of match is won not by history but by the team that show up ready for the battle. Chelsea have won just four (4) of our fourteen (14) FA Cup matches against Manchester United but 3 of the 4 victories have come in our most recent matches in the competition starting with victory in 2007 FA Cup final – a match that was the first staged at the then newly built Wembley Stadium. Since becoming Manchester United manager prior to the start of the 2016/2017 season he has led the team to two cup finals winning both the League Cup and Europa League last season and will be the strong favourite going into Saturday’s match having never lost any of the cup finals he has previously contested in England.
Willy Caballero has been between the posts during our run to the final of the FA Cup this season but it’s yet to be seen if he continues in goal on Saturday with Thibaut Courtois fit and ready should Antonio Conte decides to go with the Belgian for the Wembley showpiece. Antonio Rudiger was rested for the debacle at St. James’ Park and should be drafted back to the back three with one of Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen making way for the German. Cesc Fabregas also sat out the match on Sunday and he’s almost a certainty to return to the team but whether that will be in a two or three-man midfield is yet to be seen but if events at St. James’ Park are to be used as yardstick then he’s likely to be partnering N’Golo Kante in a two-man midfield to accommodate a three-pronged attack. Emerson Palmieri came into the lineup last Sunday in place of Marcos Alonso but the Spaniard is likely going to return at left wing back with Victor Moses occupying the opposite flank. With Jose Mourinho likely to employ his man-marking tactic on Eden Hazard again Antonio Conte will do well to come up with a strategy to counter that tactic and the obvious tactic will be to deploy both Willian and Olivier Giroud alongside the Belgian to curtail Mourinho’s negative tactic on Hazard. Pedro’s ability to run in behind the defence may also come in handy at Wembley tomorrow evening with Manchester United likely to keep a high defensive line and that might leave spaces behind their high line for the Spaniard to exploit if Antonio Conte decides to go that route. Tiemoue Bakayoko has made three starts in the last five for Chelsea but he had a forgettable outing, as did most of the team, against Newcastle United and it’s likely the Frenchman will have to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench tomorrow.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Giroud.
Last Five Matches: LDWWW
Injuries: David Luiz (Knee/Fitness) –Out; Danny Drinkwater (Calf) – Out; Ethan Ampadu (Ankle) – Out.
Jose Mourinho probably knows his starting eleven for this match and barring any last minute injuries to his team he’ll stick to that eleven. With the success Ander Herrera has had previously with man-marking Eden Hazard he may be called upon for that specific role again on Saturday. Jose Mourinho has used a three at the back formation against Chelsea once or twice before but he’s likely to keep to his tested and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. With Marcos Rojo now back to full fitness the Argentine is likely to partner Eric Bailly in central defence with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young likely to complete the back four in front of David de Gea in goal, even though Sergio Romero has been chosen at times in the FA Cup run, but it was the Spaniard that kept goal in the semi-final against Spurs. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic will most likely partner at the base of United’s midfield with Paul Pogba likely to be pushed forward to support the attack alongside Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial with Romelu Lukaku a sure bet to lead the attack. Former Blues’ favourite Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford are also options for one of the positions behind the striker. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are other options available to Jose Mourinho depending on how he decides to set his team up. Luke Shaw is also another option at left back on Saturday even though the England defender is almost at the exit door at Old Trafford.
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Young; Herrera, Matic; Sanchez, Pogba, Martial; Lukaku.
Last 5 matches: WDLWW
Injuries: Romelu Lukaku (Ankle) – Doubt; Anthony Martial (Knee) – Doubt; Maroune Fellaini (Muscle Injury) – Doubt.
N’Golo Kante vs. Paul Pogba
This is a battle of Frenchmen and it’s likely to determine the direction of the FA Cup trophy at the end of the day. Paul Pogba will dictate United’s play as he relishes his role further up the field but if there’s one man in the squad that can stop his countryman it’s N’Golo Kante.
Gary Cahill vs. Romelu Lukaku
This is another battle to look out for on Saturday as Romelu Lukaku will be Manchester United’s surest outlet to goal with his physical strength and Gary Cahill will have to be on his best to stand a chance against the Belgian powerhouse. This is surely going to be an intriguing battle and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
Eden Hazard vs. Antonio Valencia
On current form this looks like a bit of a mismatch as Eden Hazard has been on song in recent matches barring his uninspired performance St. James’ Park last Sunday. The Ecuadorian is likely to get a helping hand from Ander Herrera who’s likely to stick to Eden Hazard like his shadow on Saturday.
This match draws the curtains on the 2017/2018 season and with both Chelsea and Manchester United having had a subdued season so far but a FA Cup triumph will do enough to appease their respective fans. This is also likely going to be Antonio Conte’s last match in charge of Chelsea if rumours making the rounds are anything to go by and should that be the case at the end of the day the Italian would like nothing more than to bow out on a high.
PS: The 2017/18 season promised so much for Blues’ fan but delivered very little as we finished outside the Premier League top four for the second time in as long as I can remember but we have a lot to look forward to next season as long as we Keep The Blue Flag Flying High. I’ve surely enjoyed doing this all season and I hope you have enjoyed reading and if you did then you can look forward to a bigger, better preview next season, KTBFFH!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro UK
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