Man U sleep walked their way to a 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. Both the Red Devils and the Blues looked like neither wanted to be there.
The result was a mistake filled match that the Blues won on a PK in the 22nd minute when Phil Jones was forced to foul Eden Hazard in the box.
The Guardians Daniel Taylor:” If this turns out to be Antonio Conte’s final game as Chelsea manager – and who could really be surprised if they do part ways? – at least he has gone out on a high. For all the problems, the unending politics and the clear impression of a manager who knows his time is up, another trophy has been added to the collection. Last year, the Premier League, this season, the FA Cup; only at Chelsea, perhaps, could a manager with that return now be cut loose.
It is an eccentric twist bearing in mind Chelsea have just won the eighth FA Cup of their history, moving joint third with Tottenham on the all-time list. But this can be an unorthodox club, and who can possibly say the boom-and-bust policy does not work when Chelsea, on Roman Abramovich’s watch, have accumulated so much silverware? This was the 15th trophy of the Abramovich era – and that is not even using the José Mourinho tactic of counting Community Shields.
The Portuguese, in fairness, managed to get through a galling day for Manchester United without feeling it necessary to aim any gratuitous digs at his former club. Well, apart from saying it was undeserved and describing Chelsea’s tactics as “predictable”, namely by aiming the ball up to Olivier Giroud and hoping Eden Hazard could sprinkle some magic on the occasion.
Predictable but effective would have been a better way of putting it and unfortunately for Mourinho his own team had nobody to menace Chelsea in the way Hazard did Phil Jones and the rest of United’s defence. Jones, in particular, looked dizzied by the experience and Hazard, with the decisive first-half penalty, chose a good day to put in one of his more illuminating performances of the past year.
The same goes for Antonio Rüdiger as Chelsea defended with the stoutness that was reminiscent of Conte’s title-winning season. Gary Cahill has rediscovered his best form and, on this evidence, Chelsea’s captain might have overtaken Jones in the pecking order to start for England in the World Cup. Jones is too prone to these kind of accident-laden performances. He finished the game with a bandaged head and a sore hamstring but nothing will hurt as much as watching back the key moments, in the 21st minute, when Chelsea put themselves in a position of strength.
Jones’s first mistake was to back off as Cesc Fàbregas curled the ball into Hazard’s feet. The Belgian came forward, trying to make space for himself. His first touch left Jones stranded and United were vulnerable as soon as Hazard started picking up speed, running inside his marker before shaping to shoot inside the penalty area.
Conte was enraged that Jones avoided a red card for the flailing, desperate challenge that brought down Hazard. It was a clear penalty and the referee, Michael Oliver, was surrounded by Chelsea players wanting to know why Jones had not been sent off.
Conte still looked incensed even after Hazard had expertly rolled the penalty past David de Gea but it was the correct decision if the referee thought Jones had made a legitimate attempt to play the ball. In that case, the regulations state referees ought to show a yellow card, regardless of whether it denies a goalscoring opportunity.
After that, Chelsea had to withstand some concerted pressure, especially in the second half, when Conte’s side started to defend more deeply. A linesman’s flag denied Alexis Sánchez a close-range equaliser and Thibaut Courtois had a fine game. It would be an exaggeration, however, to depict United’s second-half improvement as a full-blown assault.
The width was generally provided by United’s full-backs, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. Otherwise, it was a six-out-of-10 performance from the more advanced players and in the closing minutes, when an onslaught might have been expected, Chelsea were largely untroubled.
Romelu Lukaku could not make any difference when he replaced Marcus Rashford in the 73rd minute and Mourinho, reflecting on a season without silverware, seemed keen afterwards to clarify that United’s leading scorer had gone to him, rather than the other way round, to say he did not feel ready to start.
Rashford flickered only occasionally and it was a laboured performance from Sánchez, as it often has been since his defection from Arsenal. Hazard, on the other hand, always shimmered with menace when Chelsea looked to spring their opponents on the break.
The disappointment was the lack of refinement from the two teams that finished second and fifth in the Premier League, featuring some of the more celebrated players in English football’s top division. The game hotted up in the final half an hour but, Hazard apart, it lacked any real sophistication and always had the feel of a papering‑over‑the‑cracks final. United finished 19 points behind Manchester City in the league, with Chelsea 30 adrift of the top, and nobody could have left Wembley thinking that the gulf felt like a deception.
Ultimately, though, it finished with Hazard swigging from a bottle of champagne, a blizzard of ticker tape fluttering at the Chelsea end and Blue is the Colour being pumped out as the trophy was passed down the line of victorious players. Afterwards, there were all the usual questions for Conte about whether he will be leaving. If he does, there is one clear certainty – they cannot allow Hazard to follow.