Chelsea face Manchester United in the 2018 FA Cup final and return to Wembley twelve months on from being outplayed and out-fought by Arsenal in last season’s final. That proved to be the final trophy of Arsene Wenger’s reign; will Antonio Conte follow the same path?
There’s plenty of speculation about the Italian’s future after a disappointing defence of their Premier League title. Finishing fifth means no Champions League football and an expensive summer as they seek to strengthen their squad ahead of a title tilt in 2018/19.
Manchester United are better off to some extent. The Red Devils finished second, but that masks how far behind Manchester City they are and how much work needs to be carried out to make their squad competitive.
Both clubs are in similar boats and winning the FA Cup will give 2017/18 the glow of glory and leave the future looking a lot brighter than it currently seems.
Defeat at Newcastle United on the final day of the Premier League summed up the season. It was a strong line-up which underperformed at St James’ Park; the 3 – 0 defeat was a surprisingly heavy defeat but not unusual. Burnley served notice on the opening day and Bournemouth followed suit. Both at Stamford Bridge, both scoring three.
The accusation of being flat-track bullies sits comfortably. Since the turn of the year, the Blues only win against the top six was the recent 1 – 0 win over Liverpool (D1, L4). It seemed more promising when they won at Wembley against Tottenham in their first away game of the season.
Their form overall isn’t bad with one defeat in eight (W5, D2). Goals aren’t plentiful supply though. The defeat at Newcastle was the only one in five to feature over 2.5 goals and the semi-final was the last time Chelsea scored more than once.
Away from home, the Blues have one defeat in five (W4) but that followed a run of five consecutive defeats. Unusually for a Chelsea side, they have one clean sheet in their last 10 games.
David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu are both out for the Blues. Thibaut Courtois is expected to keep his place in the starting line-up even though Willy Caballero played all previous rounds.
The bigger question for Conte is whether Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata leads the line. The Spaniard has 11 goals and six assists in 31 Premier League games while Giroud has three and one respectively, in his 13 matches. Suffice to say neither is prolific.
Both scored in the 2 – 0 semi-final win over Southampton and both have two goals in this season’s tournament. With the same style of play, the only genuine attacking alternative Conte has is Hazard through the middle. That seems unlikely even though the Belgian is the club’s leading scorer and most creative player.
The season ended with a 1 – 0 win over Watford, an uninspiring match settled by Marcus Rashford’s first-half goal. Brighter news comes with reports that scans show Romelu Lukaku is expected to return for the final.
Goals have been in short supply in his absence, with United failing to score in two. They have, however, kept clean sheets in their last two games. Prior to picking up an injury in the 2 – 1 win over Arsenal, he had eight goals and three assists in the previous dozen games.
United are a ‘feast or famine’ side in front of goal. Failing to score in their last two games on the road, four of the previous five saw them score two or more. However, only two of them saw over 2.5 goals (both saw over 4.5 goals).
Against the top six, United performed well away from Old Trafford, beaten only by Chelsea and Tottenham (W2, D1) while Chelsea also lost two (W1, D2) at United and Manchester City.
As well as Lukaku, United wait on the fitness of Martial and Fellaini. The former has fallen from Mourinho’s graces and is only likely to make the bench at best. Fellaini is on the up having been in the same boat as the France international. He is playing for a new contract, although agreeing terms is proving difficult even though both club and player want him to remain at Old Trafford.
FORM (Last six Premier League games, most recent first)
Chelsea - LDWWWW
Manchester United - WDLWWW
- Chelsea have lost 1 of the last 12 FA Cup ties but at 90 minutes, it’s seven wins and four draws;
- United scored two or more in eight of their last nine cup ties, winning those matches;
- Chelsea won the last three FA Cup ties between the two clubs by 1 – 0;
- This is the 15th FA Cup tie (incl. replays) with United winning eight, losing four and two draws;
- Jose Mourinho has won four and lost three of his matches against Chelsea.
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
Chelsea: 21/20 – with Betfred!
Draw: 11/5 with Coral!
Manchester United: 7/4 with Unibet!
HEAD TO HEAD
Chelsea beat United 1 – 0 in last season’s competition but this is the third final in which they have met. 1993/4 saw Manchester United win 4 – 0 but 2006/07 was Chelsea’s revenge, winning 1 – 0 as the final returned to Wembley. Ominously for United, that match also took place on 19th May.
Last six FA Cup meetings
- Chelsea 1 – 0 Manchester United - 13th March 2017 (QF)
- Chelsea 1 – 0 Manchester United - 1st April 2013 (QF)
- Manchester United 2 – 2 Chelsea - 10th March 2013 (QF)
- Chelsea 1 – 0 Manchester United - 19th May 2007 (Final)
- Chelsea 0 – 2 Manchester United - 10th March 1999 (QF)
- Manchester United 0 – 0 Chelsea - 7th March 1999 (QF)
Two sides who rarely serve up a goalfest when they meet will be more cautious than ever at Wembley. Each knows their opponents can be difficult to breakdown and both sides possess a world-class goalkeeper.
David De Gea had the better season of the two, but Thibaut Courtois is equally coveted by Real Madrid; it’s a sign of being on top of your game to be wanted by one of football’s greatest clubs.
In their title-winning season, Chelsea had goalscorers everywhere you looked on the park. Now, they are more heavily reliant on Eden Hazard to get them out of a hole. United also rely on one key player: Romelu Lukaku. Whether United’s Belgian can last ninety minutes may decide the outcome of the final.
With United desperate to deflect any attention they can away from the noisy neighbour's title win, I’m taking them to edge a low-scoring match and Romelu Lukaku to score the first goal at 11/2 - with Betfair!
MY RECOMMENDED BETS
- He’s got a great record at Wembley, so Alexis Sanchez as an anytime goalscorer: 13/4 – with Unibet!
- Double bet – Manchester United to win and under 2.5 goals: 17/4 – with Coral!
- Ashley Young & Eden Hazard on the pitch? Got to be a penalty in there: 7/2 – with Betfair!
- Marcus Alonso to be shown a card: 17/10 – with BetVictor!