In what could be Antonio Conte’s final game in charge, Chelsea edged Manchester United 1-0 in a tight FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday to lift the world’s oldest cup competition for the eight time in their history.
The stakes were high for both sides were seeking to end the season on a high, but in the end the Blues made their early dominance count via Eden Hazard’s cooly-taken 22nd minute penalty.
United’s vaunted players failed to click once again and while Romelu Lukaku was only fit to feature on the bench, Jose Mourinho’s men still possessed plenty of attackers but failed to make the most of their superiority in the second-half as they settled for a runners-up medal.
Here are the five main talking points from a memorable FA Cup final:
Eden Hazard turns up…
It’s not been the best of seasons for Eden Hazard, but then again, the same can be said for most of his teammates.
Still, the Blues do not possess a player of his calibre and thus, the mercurial Belgian is expected to get you of the edge of your seat each time he gets the ball.
And on Sunday, he didn’t have the easiest of jobs for up against him were a United side that have shutout some of the Premier League’s finest attackers with their dour but effective approach to the game.
Ander Herrera was tasked with man-marking the Belgian out of the game and as the tie began, it looked like the Spaniard would once again win their individual battle but the Blues’ diminutive winger managed to prove to be the difference via a fast break early in the first-half.
He won the penalty and nervelessly slotted home to score the opener and, what ultimately turned out to be the winner to give the Blues faithful something to cheer for after what has been a difficult campaign.
Overall, the Belgian remained bright and was at the heart of all the Blues’ moves and kept tying the United defenders in knots.
But Paul Pogba disappoints once again
How often have we heard ‘Paul Pobga needs to take the game by the scruff of the neck’?
And how many times has the Frenchman delivered on his immense promise in a crunch tie or final?
You could probably count the times on one hand and that’s damning for United’s record signing, isn’t it?
The powerful midfielder failed to make the most of a rare defensive lapse by the Blues when he spurned a free header in the box and on the whole, found the going tough in midfield when up against the likes of N’Golo Kante and Co.
Not quite what United had in mind when they coughed up £86 million for him, two seasons ago.
Antonio Conte: Defiant till the end
Not a bad way to end your cup final jinx, eh?
After teasing the media that Saturday’s tie would be his last game of the season, Conte masterminded a hard-fought win to ensure he’s won a major trophy each year he’s been in charge of the West Londoners.
The Blues were slight underdogs after finishing fifth in the league and the heat was firmly on their coach ahead of the showdown in the capital.
Conte’s repeatedly stated that he won’t leave unless asked to, which is a sad indicator of how things are run at Stamford Bridge for the Italian has done a commendable job since arriving in the summer of 2016, especially if one considers the circumstances.
It still seems that the former Juventus manager will be getting the sack, despite guiding the Blues to their eight FA Cup title, which again, is a pity.
N’Golo Kante and Thibaut Courtois: True Blues heroes
Eden Hazard’s goalscoring exploits will see him take the major share of the accolades, but it was the defensive duo of N’Golo Kante and Thibaut Courtois who should really share the Man of the Match award.
The indefatigable Kante was everywhere and it was easy to lose count of how many interceptions the Blues’ enforcer made.
Sure, he doesn’t have the physical presence of his United counterpart Nemanja Matic but his immense engine more than makes up for it.
And further back, Thibaut Courtois made light of his previous wobbles in goal by putting in an outstanding outing between the sticks.
The Belgian custodian made some remarkable stops, especially in the second-half, to keep his side in the tie.
Chelsea were under the cosh for most parts of the second-half and had it not been for their shot-stopper, the tie could well have been forced into extra-time.
Has Gareth Southgate picked the wrong central defender from United for the World Cup?
Chris Smalling’s omission from England’s World Cup squad has sparked plenty of debates and on the basis of Saturday’s match, Gareth Southgate perhaps missed a trick by opting for Phil Jones.
Eden Hazard wasn’t exactly going nowhere, but from an acute angle and against David de Gea, the Belgian would have had to conjure a wonder strike to score.
In the end, he didn’t have to for Jones bundled him over with a characteristically clumsy challenge and referee Michael Oliver didn’t need to consult VAR to award the Blues a penalty.
Jones, when he’s not spending inordinate amounts of time with the physio, flits between the brilliant and the incompetent with remarkable alacrity.
Sure, he made just the one mistake but ties like these don’t need you to make one blunder after another, do they?
One slip can be fatal and who’s to say Jones won’t bungle it up spectacularly for the Three Lions in Russia?