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.
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