FA Cup Final 2017/18

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Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Man United

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Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday, with Antonio Conte picking up his second domestic trophy in England in just his second season in charge of the Blues.

[ MORE: Mourinho defends United ]

Eden Hazard‘s first half penalty kick put Chelsea ahead and the Blues weathered a severe second half storm from Jose Mourinho’s United to secure the silverware.

Here’s what we learned from a tense final at sunny Wembley.


MOURINHO’S MAN-MARKING GOES WRONG

It was clear from the first whistle that Jose Mourinho’s plan was to thwart Chelsea’s flair players. It didn’t work and he lost for just the third time in 15 major finals as a manager. Usually being solid and tough to break down has worked well for Mourinho in the past who had never lost a cup final in England before Saturday.

Hazard got on the ball time and time again early on as Ander Herrera couldn’t lock him down with the Belgian wizard twisting and turning past Phil Jones on multiple occasions as he isolated United’s cumbersome center backs all too easily. Olivier Giroud bullied Chris Smalling and Paul Pogba failed to dominate in midfield with Cesc Fabregas and N'Golo Kante winning the battle against Nemanja Matic.

Mourinho is known as a pragmatist and there’s no doubt that Romelu Lukaku being unfit to start in the final played its part in his team selection, but showing Chelsea the kind of respect they did straight from the kick off handed the initiative to Conte’s side. And they took it early and sat back, soaked up pressure and rather easily handled a rigid, predictable attacking display from United.

In the second half Mourinho ditched his man-to-man approach across the pitch (Herrera stopped being a second right back after failing to snuff out Hazard) and United looked like a different team with Marcus Rashford twice denied by Thibaut Courtois and Alexis Sanchez having a goal ruled out, correctly, for being offside. Such was the dominance of United in the second half, it begged a serious question as to why Mourinho handed Conte and Chelsea, his former club, the initiative from the start.

The Special One managed liked the Scared One.


HAZARD ON ANOTHER PLANET AS CONTE ENDS ON A HIGH

Hazard was the match-winner in the FA Cup final and the Belgian magician shrugged off the man-marking exploits of Herrera with ease to lead Chelsea, and Conte, to FA Cup glory.

With rumors swirling, once again, about his future at Chelsea this summer as Conte is almost certain to leave, Hazard, 27, reminded everyone just how good he can be. When he’s on, he’s unplayable. His scampering around the pitch left Mourinho incensed as his team were chasing shadows all game long.

In both the FA Cup semifinal and final Hazard has turned it on to lead Chelsea to another trophy, and the way in which he glides around the pitch, commits defenders into making tackles and leads counter attacks, he is at the perfect club for his style of play.

Whether or not Hazard thinks his future is at Chelsea remains to be seen but in this form a big summer for him with the Belgium national team may well prompt the likes of Real Madrid and PSG to grab him in his prime with just two years left on his current deal at Chelsea.

A man of the match display from Hazard was the main difference between the two teams at Wembley.


PIVOTAL MOMENT SPOT ON FROM REFEREE

When Jones slid in and took out Hazard to give away the pivotal penalty kick midway through the first half, there were calls from many that Jones should’ve been sent off by referee Michael Oliver.

Those calls were wrong and Oliver was spot on to rubber stamp his status as the top referee in the Premier League.

Jones made a genuine attempt to play the ball and due to the rule changes from two years ago, his challenge inside the box should only have yielded a yellow card rather than a red despite denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

The International Football Associations Board (IFAB) announced plenty of subtle changes in the summer of 2016, with the most impactful the removal of the so-called ‘triple-punishment law’ which would see a defender sent off for giving away a penalty kick.

“When a denial of a goalscoring opportunity offense is committed by a defender in the penalty area, the penalty kick effectively restores the goalscoring opportunity so the punishment for the player should be less strong (e.g. a yellow card) than when the offense is committed outside the penalty area. However, when the offense is handball or clearly not a genuine attempt to play or challenge for the ball, the player will be sent off.”

Despite Conte’s uproar on the sidelines, Oliver got the call spot on and the relatively new rules of the game were refereed correctly.

It has to be said that a handball decision against Ashley Young wasn’t given via VAR as the ball looked to have struck his arm and handed Chelsea another penalty kick in the second, but with the United defender so close to the ball when it struck him it wasn’t a terrible call from Oliver and his crew.

They got the pivotal calls correct.