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. […]

Conte reacted quickly to the goal, first bringing in Giroud for Zappacosta and then Hazard for Pedro a few minutes later.

The reinforcements helped spring the lock: four minutes after the Hazard sub, Azpilicueta zipped a low cross into the box. Zanka tried to intercept, but his clearance bounced off Marcos Alonso’s head and into the net for 1-1.

It was Alonso’s seventh league goal this season. He barely knew anything about it, it was a lucky goal, but Chelsea had flooded the penalty box with bodies. It was the kind of luck you make by being there for the opportunity when it comes.

Even as they equalized though, the news filtered in that Harry Kane had scored at Wembley to put Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 up v Newcastle United. As it stood, Chelsea were not getting past Spurs into the CL places. […]

Chelsea were in Wales to play Swansea City, for Saturday’s late EPL kick-off. There were just four games left till the end of the Premier League season. Five games before withdrawal symptoms set in for Chelsea FC fans, including the FA Cup Final.

Swansea City were in some danger: they were 17th in the table with 33 points, one point and one place above the relegation line, and with two games left to play against two clubs below them, Southampton and Stoke City.

They’d picked up just three points in their last five league games, from draws with Huddersfield Town (0-0), West Bromwich Albion (1-1) and Everton (1-1). They’d also lost to Manchester United (2-0) at the end of March, and Manchester City (5-0) in their last game.

The league champions were up in 5th on 63 points, seeing out a disappointing season by their standards. They had a faint hope of catching up with Tottenham or Liverpool in the champions league places, slightly enhanced by Liverpool’s recent draws with West Brom (2-2) and Stoke (0-0), but Conte’s team would probably have to win all of their remaining games to take advantage. […]

Chelsea played West Ham United in their second consecutive derby this month, for Sunday’s late Premier League kick-off.

Chelsea were coming off an immensely disappointing defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in their previous game. In fact, they had not won a single game against top six opposition in 2018. They might have scraped a win over Arsenal at the beginning of the year, but for a late equaliser from Hector Bellerin.

The league table suggested that Chelsea had the advantage for this game: they were at home and fighting for a fifth place finish, and their visitors were struggling mightily to stay out of the relegation places.

Head-to-head though, West Ham had won three and drawn one of their last six games against Chelsea. David Moyes’ team were slowly becoming a bogey side for their West London neighbours. […]

Barcelona and Chelsea clashed again in the second leg of the UEFA Champions league round of sixteen.

The teams had enjoyed very different fortunes since the 1 – 1 draw at Stamford Bridge in February. Chelsea had been beaten twice in Manchester by United and City, before scraping a 2-1 win vs Crystal Palace at home.

They were fifth in the league, four points behind Liverpool in fourth, and twenty-five points (yes you read that right, twenty-five points) behind league leaders Manchester City.

Barcelona had played four league games to Chelsea’s three, beating Girona and Atletico Madrid 6 – 1 and 1 – 0 respectively at home, and bottom club Malaga 2 – 0 away.

Surprisingly, their one draw had come against relegation-threatened Las Palmas, but the Catalan giants were eight points clear at the top of La Liga Santander with ten games left to play. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were the league’s top scorers at 24 and 21 goals, and all was right with the world. […]

With the exception of a 3 – 0 win when Huddersfield defended deep and let them play, every time Chelsea have used Eden Hazard as a striker this season, they’ve struggled to attack effectively, either scoring just one goal or none at all.

Today was no different: Chelsea did not register a single shot on target the entire game.

Manchester City had shown against weaker opposition (Burnley and Wigan Athletic) that they could be breached, but with both their center forwards warming the bench, Chelsea were simply not set up to take advantage.

Even more worrying though, was a heads-down attitude and lack of application from some Chelsea players at certain moments in the game. […]

The stats showed Barcelona had 73% of possession by the end of the game, but Chelsea had more (and better quality) chances – eleven shots to Barcelona’s seven, with two shots on target for each team. So did Messi & Co. starve Chelsea of possession, or was Conte’s team content to let them have the ball in non-threatening areas?

Willian was the man of the match in the Chelsea’s last game, and he was on fire tonight as well. He put the fear of God in the Barcelona defence, hit the post twice, could have had a hat trick.

Messi played well, but at the end he was limited to poaching an opportunistic goal off a defensive error. Barcelona have the advantage of an away goal going into the second leg, but the tie remains open, with a full ninety minutes to go. […]

Chelsea looked a completely different team from their games against Watford and Bournemouth. It might have been the result of having a target man to focus their attacking play, bring others into the game and draw the defence away from their wide forwards. Or maybe it was the time off Conte gave his players midweek, or the quality of the opposition. Or a combination of all three.

They took the points and leap-frogged Spurs to fourth, one point behind Liverpool in third, three points behind Manchester United; West Bromwich Albion remained pinned to the bottom of the table.

Next up for Chelsea, two big cup games in eight days: Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round, and FC Barcelona in the Champions League. […]

In tonight’s program notes, Roman Abramovich invited Chelsea fans to join him in taking a stand for inclusion and diversity, and saying no to Anti-Semitism. Many supporters will choose to remember the occasion for Roman’s words and leadership – they definitely will not want to think about the football.

Bournemouth took Chelsea apart with deliberate, surgical skill, and frankly, the home team never looked like scoring. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, and the players let their manager down really. But a three-nil home defeat to a smaller club ten places down the log is always hard to explain. Hopefully, Chelsea don’t find themselves less one title winning manager in the next few weeks. […]

Chelsea were in turmoil, apparently. The players were tired, strikers misfiring, technical directors quitting. Rumours were swirling that another popular title-winning manager would leave soon. Andy Carroll was threatening to sign on a permanent transfer.

And three consecutive goalless draws for the first time in club history. It wasn’t a bad run of results really; Chelsea had stayed in two cup competitions, and gained a point under difficult circumstances in the league. But still, in turmoil by all accounts.

Well… these things happen, and successful clubs find solutions. And Chelsea’s FA Cup replay vs Norwich City was an opportunity to start implementing those solutions.

Norwich City were 13th in the EFL Championship. They’d only played one game since their draw with Chelsea: they beat Bristol City away 1 – 0, which was a pretty decent result considering Bristol were thirteen points ahead of them before their game. […]