Mateo Kovačić

Arsenal - Chelsea
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Arsenal wins record 14th FA Cup

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Arsenal used a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang double to engineer a 2-1 comeback win over 10-man Chelsea in the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, collecting a record 14th FA Cup and sealing a place in the Europa League.

The win means seventh place in the Premier League will not be good enough for the Europa League. Wolverhampton Wanderers’ only route to Europe is by winning this season’s UEL and going to the 2020-21 Champions League.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Christian Pulisic scored early for the Blues but was removed with a painful injury just after halftime. Cesar Azpilicueta also left with an injury and Mateo Kovacic was shown a controversial second yellow card in the 73rd minute to leave the Blues with 10 men.

Referee Anthony Taylor will be under the microscope for that decision as well as a possible Hector Bellerin foul on Andreas Christensen in the run-up to the winning goal.

Arsenal have won four of the last seven FA Cups, while this was Chelsea’s third appearance in four years. It’s a signature win for Mikel Arteta, and a small step back for Frank Lampard.


Stats

Shots: Arsenal 11-8
Shots on target: 3-3
Fouls: Chelsea 14-2
Possession: Chelsea 60 percent

[ MORE: FA Cup Final box score ]


Man of the Match

Aubameyang — If this is the striker’s last match for Arsenal, it’s a beauty. He didn’t do a terrible amount besides scoring two goals… but he scored two goals in a final. Honorable mention to Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos.


Arsenal – Chelsea recap

Mason Mount came closer in the third minute with a shot from the right that would’ve curled inside the near post if not for the quick hand of Emiliano Martinez

And it was Chelsea who would answer with Mount on the other side of the pitch to take a pass from a driving Pulisic, then feeding Giroud for a flick to the American.

Pulisic controlled the ball flawlessly and cut past a wary Kieran Tierney before chopping the ball across his body to leave Emiliano Martinez in the lurch.

The American forced a save out of Martinez with a hard drive moments later, Chelsea asking all of the questions at Wembley.

Arsenal got back in the fray when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the deck during a charge alongside Cesar Azpilicueta in the box. Aubameyang got Willy Caballero going the wrong way and put his emphatic strike home.

Azpilicueta then came off injured, replaced by Andreas Christensen.

Pulisic exploded out of the gate and forced a turnover before driving the left. He grimaced once he got inside the 18 and hit the turf in agony holding his hamstring after his shot went wide.

He needed help to get off the pitch.

Arsenal went in front through Aubameyang, who is clearly the Gunners biggest star. Hector Bellerin led a charge up the right side which came to the Gabonese star on the left.

Aubameyang took his time and might’ve wasted his chance were it not for calm work in cutting to his left and chopping past an onrushing Caballero.

It got worse for the Blues when Kovacic fouled Granit Xhaka and picked up a second yellow.

FA Cup final: Key battles for Arsenal v. Chelsea

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Three matchups to keep a particularly close eye on when Arsenal and Chelsea meet at Wembley stadium in the FA Cup final on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET)…

[ MORE: How will Chelsea and Arsenal line up in FA Cup final? | Preview ]

Christian Pulisic v. Arsenal’s right back/wing

Whether the assignment goes to Hector Bellerin (calf injury), Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Cedric Soares, the Gunners’ starting right back/wing back will have his hands plenty full every time Christian Pulisic touches the ball.

The American superstar has undeniably been Chelsea’s best player — if not for the whole of the PL — since the season restarted (four goals, two assists in nine league appearances), and the 21-year-old will once again be heavily relied upon come Saturday. It won’t be Pulisic’s first cup final appearance after playing part in Borussia Dortmund’s 2016-17 DFB-Pokal triumph, though it will be the first time he’s started a final and would represent his first major trophy since he was the 19-year-old breakout star in Germany.

The fact that Mikel Artera’s options are a pair of right backs not long returned from serious injuries (Bellerin and Cedric) and a winger-turned-right-back (Maitland-Niles) only tilts the scale further in Pulisic’s favor.

Advantage: Chelsea

Xhaka & Ceballos v. Kovacic & Jorginho

With both sides likely to start the game in a 3-4-3 formation, the battle for central midfield will be particularly interesting — and important. When it comes to the 3-4-3, there are typically two was to go about setting up your midfield:

  1. pick defensive-minded, ball-winning midfielders to make central midfield a no-fly zone for the opposition, and lean on your wide midfielders/wing backs as the extra attackers pushing forward;
  2. lean on attacking-minded, creative midfielders as the extra attackers, and pick more natural wide defenders to patrol the center of the field and fill in the gaps defensively

If Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard opt for the lineups set out by PST’s Nicholas Mendola — and each seems a calculated bet to do so — Arsenal will be the former and Chelsea the latter. The same formation will look and operate drastically differently for the two sides. Granit Xhaka is a pure destroyer and Dani Ceballos operates best on the second level (of three) in midfield. On the other side, Jorginho will take up the same space as Ceballos and Mateo Kovacic will be the most advanced of the four.

As such, Arsenal’s wingers will be given the green light to fly forward, allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to sit a bit more narrow and combine with Alexandre Lacazette. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso and Reece James will be more stationary and moving back toward their own goal.

Advantage: Push

Aubameyang v. James

Best-case scenario for Chelsea: this will be the most lopsided head-to-head battle at Wembley. Best-case scenario for Arsenal: it will be the decisive battle and represents Arsenal’s most straightforward path to lifting the Cup.

If it is indeed James who starts on the right side of Chelsea’s midfield, he’ll likely find himself pushed deeper and deeper until he’s effectively playing next to Cesar Azpilicueta. Aubameyang’s combination of speed and dribbling ability will be far too much for James to handle himself, so he’ll lean upon Azpilicueta to hold down the inside channel while himself shading toward the outside. Azpilicueta’s experience as a long-time right back will undoubtedly give him a leg up on most natural center backs in the same situation, but even still Aubameyang’s 27 goals (all competitions) will be a terror from the opening to closing whistles.

Advantage: Arsenal


How to watch Arsenal – Chelsea in the FA Cup Final

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: ESPN+

What we love about Chelsea

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Chelsea is one of the most polarizing teams in the English top flight.

[ MORE: What we love about each Premier League club ]

The cash-rich club in West London is a lightning rod, especially with infamous billionaire Roman Abramovich at the helm. The Blues have won a lot, with five Premier League titles to their name.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Chelsea, like it or not, is one of the most popular teams in Europe, and they can always be counted on to compete at the highest level. Well, unless Jose Mourinho is about finished with his time in charge. Here are some things we love about Chelsea.


Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount celebrate a goal against Arsenal (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images).

Youth infusion: Chelsea has been a tough out for the last two decades, but this season has been different from a number of Chelsea’s top-four challenges of the recent past.  Forced by a transfer ban over the summer and a host of injuries through the middle of the season, Frank Lampard has had to dig deep into his squad for starters, and that has brought a number of young players to the forefront.

For the past decade, Chelsea’s youth system was lauded by Premier League fans as one of the best in Europe, but it never seemed to benefit the team at the top level. Instead, many of the exciting young players were seen shipped off elsewhere to provide an influx of cash while the senior squad purchased expensive players to play for the Blues in the biggest competitions. This season, however, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, and Billy Gilmour have joined Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi as Chelsea youth products to contribute significantly on the field of late. This has resulted in a fabulously entertaining brand of football that has made the Blues a must-watch.

As a biproduct, being more fun has also made the Blues much harder to hate. More on that in a moment.

Midfield brilliance: It’s certainly possible to argue that Chelsea’s midfield is the best of the Premier League this season. Although Liverpool has dominated the league table this season, their front and back lines have done the bulk of the work. For the Blues, everything starts and finishes with their midfield.

Mateo Kovacic has proven to be an exceptional purchase from the Real Madrid Bargain Bin, and the partnership he has developed with Jorginho has been rock solid. N’Golo Kante has struggled with injuries for much of the season, but when he is available, he provides a top-tier rotational option with the aforementioned duo. Add in Ross Barkley and a healthy Loftus-Cheek as a fourth and fifth option off the bench, plus the recent emergence of Gilmour, and the collection of players is tough to top.

Christian Pulisic celebrates scoring against Valencia in the Champions League (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images).

Christian Pulisic: You didn’t think you were getting out of here without seeing this man highlighted, did you?

Christian Pulisic’s presence at Chelsea has obviously been incredibly entertaining for USMNT fans, but it goes beyond that. The American brings an exciting mindset to the field every time he steps on the pitch, and that had been evident at Chelsea until a nagging adductor injury robbed him of months of playing time.

It had taken some time after arriving this past summer from Borussia Dortmund, but Pulisic eventually forced his way into the starting lineup with electric attacking contributions and a creative flair. From late October through mid-December, Pulisic had a stretch where he started eight straight games, starting with his hat-trick against Burnley. Here’s to hoping that injury recoveries prove to be a silver lining from this coronavirus shutdown, with Pulisic top of that list.

Hateability: If you don’t love Chelsea, chances are you hate them, and that’s a thing to love about the Blues too. From Roman Abramovich on down, there have been plenty of villainous characters at Stamford Bridge over the last decade or two. That’s great for the sport and great for the club, because hated teams are usually have two things in common: 1) they win a lot, and 2) they draw well.

For Chelsea, that is certainly the case. A poll by The Mirror back in 2019 listed Chelsea as the most hated Premier League club. Hating a particular club is actually a fun way for league fans of other teams to stay engaged…imagine there was no team to project your hatred upon? How boring would that be? It wouldn’t be sports without equal parts loyalty and loathing, and you can thank the Blues for providing both services.

Player ratings from Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United

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Manchester United defeated Chelsea 2-0 on Monday at Stamford Bridge, moving the Red Devils to within three points of their fourth-place hosts.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Who were the stars and the duds? Read on…

Chelsea

Willy Caballero — 6 — Just one save on the day.

Reece James — 5 — A miserable in 50/50s for a promising player.

Antonio Rudiger — 6 — Lost Maguire on United’s second goal but was otherwise strong

Andreas Christensen — 6.5 — Strong and fought through a bloodied nose before succumbing to the injury at halftime, but couldn’t stop Martial from making it 1-0.

Cesar Azpilicueta — 6 — Okay day, but rightly or wrongly his shove cost Chelsea a goal (Probably wrongly).

Mateo Kovacic — 8 — He was everywhere. According to Sofascore, Kovacic had over 100 touches, 87 percent passing, two key passes, four of five dribbles and 8-of-14 in duels to go with an interception, three clearances, and three tackles.

Jorginho — 8 — Exceptional. Nailed eight of his nine long balls and passed at 94 percent. A maestro.

N’Golo Kante — N/A — Only a dozen minutes before his injury-riddled season met February head-on.

Willian — 7 — Couldn’t get Chelsea on the board, so we shouldn’t praise him too much, but the Brazilian doesn’t get enough love for his willingness and adeptness in tackling.

Pedro — 7 — Three key passes highlight an active day.

Michy Batshuayi — 5 — Couldn’t finish some prime chances, and caught an unpunished boot to the groin. Insult meet injury. Zero shots on target.

Subs

Mason Mount — 6 — Nearly had an assist if not for Olivier Giroud‘s offside toes.

Kurt Zouma — 7 — Came off the bench to score, though it was pulled off the board by VAR. Won six of seven duels, and was steady at the back.

Olivier Giroud — 6 — Nearly had a goal if not for his toes and the timing of a freeze frame.


Manchester United

David De Gea — 6 — Hardly-tested, but did have one fine save.

Luke Shaw — 6 — Not bad.

Harry Maguire — 8 — How do you rate a man who should’ve been sent off but was otherwise a beast and scored a terrific insurance goal? I guess we’re saying you rate him as if he wasn’t sent off, which he wasn’t.

Eric Bailly — 7 — One really poor moment early, but rebounded and showed terrific skill in recovery, tackling, and even moving the ball forward via dribble.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka — 8 — He may end up being the best signing of the summer (Sorry Harry). Terrific assist, four clearances, three blocked shots, two interceptions, and a tackle.

Brandon Williams — 7 — Steadier than his 19 years would have you imagine.

Nemanja Matic — 7 — Busy in the middle, albeit quieter than usual.

Fred — 7 — Got away with one thanks to VAR.

Bruno Fernandes — 7 — Continued to flash his supreme talent, though the end product eluded him.

Daniel James — 5 — Looked busy, but not productive.

Anthony Martial — 7 — Terrific header on the goal, and was industrious in trying to produce. more.

Subs

Andreas Pereira — N/A

Odion Ighalo — N/A

Diogo Dalot — N/A

Chelsea controls Lille to clinch UCL knockout round berth

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Chelsea advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds as the second team out of Group H after a 2-1 defeat of Lille at Stamford Bridge that flattered the visitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Tammy Abraham and Cesar Azpilicueta scored for Chelsea on a rain-splattered night in London, with Lille scoring via the Blues’ old friend Loic Remy.

Valencia beat Ajax in the other Group H match to send last season’s semifinalists to the Europa League.


Three things we learned

1. Uneven finishing almost undoes Blues: Make no mistake about the fact that Chelsea was in total control of this match right up until the point they looked at the scoreboard following Loic Remy’s 78th minute strike. Chelsea’s two goals came from a remarkable nine shots on target, and this could’ve been over long before any lone concession put the result in jeopardy. It happens to youngish teams, sure, but jeopardy came out of almost nothing, truly.

2. All roads lead to Abraham: You can read more about Pulisic’s strong day here, but he was one of three or even four players who drove Chelsea to so many of the above chances. Pulisic’s chemistry with Kovacic is a very real, but both joined Willian and N’Golo Kante in bamboozling the Lille backs.

3. Well, give the keeper some credit: Mike Maignan was Lille’s captain at age 24 in a Champions League match, and nothing he did made the arm band anything other than fitting. Six saves — four from inside the box — joined a clearance, a high claim, and two aerial duels won in making for an impressive afternoon.

Man of the Match: Kovacic, who won nearly duel he entered and barely put a pass wrong.


The match started under heavy rain, both sides adapting to the slick ball and pitch.

Tammy Abraham couldn’t find Pulisic with an early flick, and the American winger spun a left-footed shot wide of the far post in the 10th minute.

Emerson Palmeiri ripped wide of the goal and then Abraham did the same after an N’Golo Kante shot was blocked into his path.

Pulisic played a big role in Chelsea’s breakthrough, dribbling across the 18 before finding Willian, who drove the touch line and cut back for Abraham’s tap-in.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

It was 2-0 before long, Azpilicueta darting to the front post to turn a header home off a corner kick.

Great header, bad defense here:

The Blues were superior in nearly every moment of the match, with Willian and Pulisic very much at the forefront. Lille did a decent job of keeping them from truly dangerous positions, and Abraham had a little trouble finding his finish when the duo found him.

Jonathan Bamba cued up Remy’s 78th minute goal, as Frank Lampard and his men suddenly had a match to play.

Azpilicueta probably lost his Man of the Match nod when he allowed the Bamba cross to get through, though it was admittedly clever work.