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FA Cup Final: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United

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When the dust settles on the 2018 FA Cup, it is fair to say it will probably not reach the echelons of cup final classics. But for Antonio Conte and Chelsea, this trophy marks a triumphant end to a turbulent and overall disappointing season.

Both managers were under pressure to perform and the two team sheets hinted at a tense and nervous match. No Romelu Lukaku for Manchester United, Giroud preferred over Morata with Hazard in the number 10 role for the Blues. The usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies the cup final was set alongside the bittersweet applause for the late, great Ray Wilkins, a legend for both clubs. It was fitting that his widow Jackie was given the honour of handing over the cup to the winning side- apt considering the usual representative was absent for another important event. 

The match was set into sharp focus just three minutes in when Ander Herrera clumsily knocked Marcos Alonso over, following a scrappy period of play from both sides. Eden Hazard tested David De Gea from just inside the box, with the Spaniard beating the ball away with his feet, whilst several teasing crosses were held by Thibaut Courtois. It was a war of attrition with Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera going toe-to-toe with Tiemoue Bakayoko, N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas.

It was Chelsea’s Spanish midfield maestro who provided the pass of the match, his pinpoint half-volley was superbly controlled by Eden Hazard just past the twentieth minute mark. The control allowed him to speed away from Phil Jones and career towards the United goal. Whilst it looked like Hazard had dragged the ball too wide, he was crudely brought down by the English defender and referee Michael Oliver showed no hesitation to point to the spot. Although this was the first FA Cup Final to utilise the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), there was no controversy about this decision. Hazard stepped up coolly and slotted the ball to the left of David De Gea, much to the delight of the Chelsea crowd. His celebration was passionate, whilst Conte on the sidelines remained fairly muted.

The rest of the second half continued in a similar vein. Both sides struggled to keep possession well, with Marcus Rashford and Jessie Lingard struggling to get into the game, with Paul Pogba firmly shackled by the French duo in Chelsea’s central midfield. Bakayoko has been a mixed bag in his first season in English football, but he rose to the occasion. The one time he was outfoxed by Pogba, the United maverick was able to drive through the Chelsea side, cutting a rare swathe before laying it out to Alexis Sanchez. His ball inside was caught between Rashford’s feet but he was unable to get a firm finish and the ball was cleared. The half-time whistle saw Chelsea in the ascendency.

If Chelsea had shaded the first half, then the second half began with Manchester United on top. Jose Mourinho had given his team the proverbial hair-dryer treatment at half time and the second half began with United on top. Wingbacks Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young floated and drilled in some tempting crosses, but Belgian shot-stopper Courtois claimed them, or the Chelsea back three managed to clear the ball, by hook or by crook.

Two-thirds through the match, Chelsea were now under the cosh. Marcus Rashford’s twenty-yard strike stung Courtois’s palms, before Pogba’s effort deflected wide. Matic scuffed wide from range, as Romelu Lukaku warmed up. If one side was going to score, it was going to be the Red Devils. And on the 63rd minute they thought they had.

A free kick whipped in from the right-hand channel was met by a combination of Pogba and Jones, but Courtois scrambled across to clear the ball away desperately. He was only able to clear the ball away as far as Chilean Alexis Sanchez, whose knee jabbed the ball into the net to spark wild celebrations- cut short by the offside flag. The VAR confirmed the decision was correct, but it was very tight.

Azpilicueta and Rudiger continued to dominate at the back for the Blues, whilst Pogba continued to struggle, splaying several passes out of play. Chelsea should have doubled their lead on the break, with the ever-industrious N’Golo Kante driving out of the midfield and playing the ball inside the box to Marcos Alonso, but the marauding wingback could only drive straight at De Gea. Moses clipped the ball back inside and it struck Ashley Young’s arm, but the lottery of VAR once more said no.

The first of United’s best two chances came right after. Pogba’s slide-rule pass found Rashford, but the young English strikers attempts to dink Courtois were thwarted by his wide block. A few moments later, Rashford was off along with Lingard and Martial and Lukaku replacing the English duo.

N’Golo Kante’s super slide tackle on Pogba was accompanied by more sterling defensive work from Rudiger, Cahill and Azpilicueta. Martial buzzed with liveliness, but ultimately United were sloppy. Chelsea were able to have a brief period of respite, with Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard both afforded rare touches.

United dominance returned shortly after with Matic and Martial going close, before United wasted their second clear cut chance. Paul Pogba, unmarked from a corner eight yards out could only head wide. It was a very poor finish and the Frenchman knew it. Mata came on for penalty villain Jones, but United’s creative force was flowing away.

Rudiger cleared away for the umpteenth time and Chelsea made a flurry of substitutions with match-winner Hazard replaced by Willian. There was just time for Matic to head wide before Chelsea had the ball in the United corner once more.

The fifth minute of injury time evaporated and Conte’s Blues claimed the oldest trophy in football. Jose Mourinho on the other hand was left to rue tactical mismanagement. He blamed Chelsea for their negative approach, but he has hardly been averse to ‘bus-parking’ in the past himself. He accepted the result with the good grace of a sour lemon. On the other side, Antonio Conte might not be staying for much longer, but if this is his final game, he can leave with his head held high. Despite the turmoil and chaos that seems to perpetuate from West London, there is no denying trophies also accompany it.

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