Saturday 19th May, Wembley Stadium – Chelsea and Manchester United squared off against each other for the last time this season in the Emirates FA Cup Final.

The Premier League season was over, and both sides had more or less exchanged places in the table, compared with the previous season. Manchester United had moved up from sixth to second on the strength of key signings and ex-Chelsea players Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic.

Chelsea had also made (perhaps unnecessary) changes to their title-winning side, losing Matic to United and also top scorer Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid. They then duly proceeded to collapse from first to fifth in a disappointing second season for manager Antonio Conte.

Manchester City had the 2018 Premier League title and Carabao Cup sewn up. Liverpool were preparing for a Champions League final vs Real Madrid in Kiev. This game was Chelsea and Manchester United’s last chance to win a trophy this season.

The Red Devils had enjoyed a slightly easier path to the final, scoring twelve and conceding just one on the way. They beat Derby County 2-0, Yeovil Town 4-0, Huddersfield Town 2-0 and Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0, before coming from behind to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley in the semis.

Chelsea struggled to get past Norwich City on penalties in a third round replay, but then beat Newcastle United 3-0, Hull City 4-0, Leicester City 2-1 and Southampton 2-0, with Olivier Giroud scoring one of the best goals of this season’s competition.

Antonio Conte picked Thibaut Courtois to anchor his 3-5-2, starting the Belgian ahead of Willy Caballero for the first time in the FA Cup this season. Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud were the attackers for this game, and Alvaro Morata and Willian were on the bench.

United played a 4-3-3, with Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba in midfield behind Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford. Romelu Lukaku had recovered from an ankle injury, but was a substitute for today’s game.

Line-Ups & Ratings

Chelsea

Courtois 8.5, Moses 7.5, Azpilicueta 8, Cahill 8, Rudiger 8 Alonso 7.5, Kante 8.5, Bakayoko 7.5, Fabregas 7, Hazard 8.5 (Willian 5), Giroud 7 (Morata 5)

Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Chalobah, Barkley, Pedro, Willian, Morata

Manchester United

De Gea 8, Valencia 7, Smalling 6.5, Jones 6 (Mata 5), Young 7, Matic 7.5, Herrera 6, Pogba 7.5, Lingard 6 (Martial 6.5), Sanchez 6.5, Rashford 7 (Lukaku 5)

Subs Romero, Bailly, Darmian, McTominay, Martial, Mata, Lukaku

Big Moments

Playing To Their Strengths

Chelsea have played the 3-5-2 many times before under Antonio Conte, but they made an important change to their style of play today, opting to play it long over the crush of United midfielders, rather than passing laboriously out of defence.

It definitely played to a strength of theirs, with Giroud doing a fantastic job holding up play and bringing Hazard and the midfielders behind him into the game. The Blues were also very effective breaking up play and counterattacking against Unitedโ€™s slower centre backs.

Chelsea made inroads down the left early on as Bakayoko ventured forward, but Fabregas was eventually dispossessed of the ball. United sprung a counter but Jesse Lingard was fouled by N’golo Kante as he sprinted upfield.

A minute later Eden Hazard had the game’s first shot on target, dribbling past Phil Jones on the left before testing David de Gea at his near post, but the Spanish keeper made a good save.

Hazard Penalty!

Chelsea had a decent penalty shout 13 minutes in: Nemanja Matic appeared to haul Bakayoko down as he sprinted past him into the box, but Michael Oliver wasn’t convinced of the foul.

Halfway through the opening period, Hazard found himself through on goal courtesy of a brilliant long ball from Fabregas, but Phil Jones fouled him with a sliding tackle. This time Oliver correctly gave the penalty, plus a yellow card for Jones.

Hazard stepped up to take the penalty, and coolly rolled it into the right corner as De Gea dived left. Chelsea were up 1-0!

United Pressure

Manchester United had a series of corners, as well as a couple of good opportunities from free kicks conceded by Moses and Fabregas on the right, but Chelsea defended uncharacteristically well to prevent their opponents from finding an equalizer.

Phil Jones had the best of the chances a few minutes before half time. Ashley Young swung in a cross from the left wing, but Jones’ header flew just wide of the far post under defensive pressure from Tiemoue Bakayoko.

United had another excellent opportunity to score just before the half time whistle. Paul Pogba took the ball up the pitch on the counter, and found Rashford right on the penalty spot, but Antonio Rudiger made an outstanding interception to prevent the goal.

Wake Up Call

Courtois made a fantastic save off another Rashford shot early in the second half, after Cesc Fabregas was dispossessed on the edge of his own area. Matic had another chance as the ball came out to the edge of the box, but he dragged his shot well wide.

Alexis Sanchez appeared to have scored after Courtois stretched to save another Phil Jones header, but the referee’s assistant ruled the goal out for offside. The video assistant referee also confirmed the call.

It was still 1-0 but United were dominating now, and Chelsea were teetering, on the edge of losing their lead, as they had done so many times before this season.

The Chelsea players sensed the danger and became more adventurous in possession, actively trying to make the game safe by scoring another goal.

Kante played Marcos Alonso through on goal on one such fast break, but he lingered too long before shooting, and De Gea was able to make the save. Ashley Young blocked Moses’ follow up shot with his arm, but the VAR confirmed it was not a penalty.

Rashford and Lingard were substituted for Lukaku and Martial on 72 minutes. Just before he went off though, Rashford was denied again by Courtois on another one on one.

Martial had a shot on goal seconds after coming in, but Cesar Azpilicueta intercepted to take the power out of his shot, and Courtois held the ball.

Matic had another shot saved by Courtois late on, and then Pogba missed one his team’s best chances. He was completely unmarked on a corner on 82 minutes, but headed the ball wide of the post.

Ashley Young put another good cross into the box in injury time, and Matic beat Moses and Azpilicueta to it, but his header was off target.

It was Manchester United’s last attack of the game. Chelsea were able to manage possession through to the end of injury time, for their first trophy of the season.

CHELSEA ARE THE 2018 FA CUP WINNERS!

Domestic Trophy

Chelsea showed a lot of maturity and backbone to win this game, especially in defence. They had just 34% of possession, and six shots (three on target) to United’s eighteen (five on target).

They were not the favourites, especially after their 3-0 collapse at St. James’ Park in the last league game of the season. Jose Mourinho had the big name players and trophy pedigree, but Antonio Conte’s players had more individual experience winning trophies, and it showed today.

There was some luck involved, as there always is. Sanchez was only just offside for his goal, but it was the wake up call Conte’s side needed. Once they stopped sitting back, passively trying to defend their lead, the win almost became a certainty for Chelsea FC.

Final Score Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United

Thumbnail image courtesy of: Getty

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About Ugo Nwogwugwu

Gamer and Chelsea fan since the late 90's! When I'm not caught up in family or work stuff, I'm all about the incredible, always entertaining, Chelsea FC.

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2017-2018 Season, Articles

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