17:15, Saturday 19th May, Wembley Stadium (London), BBC One/BT Sport 2
Last season’s FA Cup runners-up make their second consecutive final appearance when they face Manchester United at Wembley on Saturday afternoon.
With the Royal Wedding just hours before kick-off at Wembley, it’s certainly a joyous day, one for celebration, though only for one set of supporters.
With Chelsea finishing fifth and United second, both sides missed out on silverware and this represents the last chance for both to save their season and give the fans something to smile about. As the Europa League looms like a dark cloud over Stamford Bridge, it’s perhaps the Blues that are more in need.
This could, in fact, prove to be Conte’s swansong with the club he guided to the Premier League title in 2016/17.
Speculation has mounted over his season throughout the season with tension reaching boiling point after the final day defeat to Newcastle. A loss on Saturday is likely to prove the final nail in the coffin.
Last Time Out
Newcastle United 3-0 Chelsea [Premier League]
Chelsea missed out on a place in next season’s Champions League with a 3-0 away defeat to Newcastle, ending a miserable defence of their title.
With mounting speculation that Antonio Conte is set to leave the club over the summer, it’s clear how little influence he has left on his players.
The Blues were second best for the majority of the match and eventually went behind to a Dwight Gayle header. A second half brace from Ayoze Perez condemned the Blues to a season in the Europa League and a fifth-placed finish.
Chelsea looked demotivated and uninspired, epitomised by failing to register a shot on target until the 52nd minute, with their best chance of the game falling to Olivier Giroud. It was a dismal end to a dismal season, preparing for the FA Cup Final in the worst possible way.
Manchester United 1-0 Watford [Premier League]
Red Devils legend Michael Carrick bid farewell to the club and the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Javi Gracia’s Watford. The 36-year-old will be joining United’s coaching staff after 12 seasons as a player at Old Trafford.
Carrick reminded the United fans just what they’re going to miss by setting up Marcus Rashford’s winning goal. The Englishman lofted a perfect ball to Juan Mata, who squared to Rashford in the 34th minute.
The three points ensured the Red Devils finished second in the Premier League. Despite ending the campaign a distant 19 points behind Manchester City, Jose Mourinho led United to their highest finish in the post-Ferguson era.
The Blues are only expecting to be without two players on Saturday; David Luiz is suffering from a knee injury, whilst Danny Drinkwater is ruled out with a calf strain.
The big question for Conte, though, is whether he starts Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud.
Manchester United Lineup
Romelu Lukaku faces a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s final, whilst Anthony Martial is likely to miss out after injuring himself before United’s final Premier League fixture. Marouane Fellaini is also a doubt.
Mourinho is likely to pick the team that dispatched Tottenham 2-1 in the semi-final last month.
Key Battle: N’Golo Kante vs Paul Pogba
Manchester United reached the final by beating Tottenham 2-1 at Wembley last month, and they were able to do so by shutting Spurs down in the middle of the pitch.
The Lilywhites played into the Red Devils’ hands by attacking them and Pogba subsequently flourished between the lines of attack and defence. Spurs’ attacking strategy left pockets of space for the Frenchman to operate in.
If Chelsea follow suit and attack United, the same issue will plague them. However, Conte will task N’Golo Kante with the task of ensuring Pogba doesn’t get too much time on the ball.
Kante has made the second most interceptions in the league (70), as well as the third-most tackles (69).
Similarly important is how Ander Herrera marshalls Eden Hazard, the same way he did in Manchester United’s 2-0 victory over the Blues in their title-winning season.
Advantage Manchester United
Manchester United’s last three games saw them lose to Brighton, draw with West Ham and beat Watford narrowly. They clearly struggled and the common denominator in those three matches is that these are all teams that sit deeper in a low-block defensive structure.
Mourinho is at his best against teams that like to play openly and expansively, so the key for Conte is giving United the advantage in terms of possession and force his Portuguese counterpart to play the way he so despises.
If the Blues are patient, as per their typical playing style, their chance will come on the break. Moreover, the likes of Giroud and Hazard are well-suited to this tactic.
Chelsea’s defence of their title was, frankly, appalling and they finished fifth, without spending a single day at the top of the table, condemned to plying their trade in next season’s Europa League.
Consequently, Conte has been flirting with the axe all season and it’s clear the players no longer have faith in their boss, which could cause another poor performance this weekend. It’s Chelsea’s last chance to save their season, but will the players turn up or display another lack of support for their boss?
For United, they finished higher than the Blues, but this is their only chance for silverware too. Mourinho, the serial winner, will be desperate to get his hands on another FA Cup.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United
All the internal managerial turmoil at Chelsea has left the players unmotivated and uninspired and Conte will struggle to bring the best out of them, despite the occasion.
Manchester United will look to be patient and take their chances when they do eventually come their way, so much depends on whether Lukaku as it the races against his former club or not. However, Mourinho will do what he does best and win.
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