On late Saturday afternoon London time (early Sunday morning Australian time), and in the aftermath of the royal wedding, the 2018 Football Association (FA) Cup final takes place at the home of football Wembley Stadium for the 12th FA Cup final at the modern Wembley in a re-match of the first FA Cup final played at the modern Wembley Stadium between Chelsea F.C., who are looking to win their eighth FA Cup, and their fifth at the modern Wembley, and Manchester United F.C., who are looking to equal Arsenal’s record of 13 FA Cup crowns on Saturday, but had only won one FA Cup at the modern Wembley.
Chelsea F.C. under Antonio Conte have had what has been a disappointing season by their standards, failing not only to defend their English Premier League crown, but also finished just outside of the top four in fifth to miss qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season. In their only season back in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea F.C. could only make it into the Round of 16, where they were defeated over two legs by FC Barcelona (4-1 on aggregate), but managed to make it to the English Football League (EFL) Cup semi-finals, where they were defeated by Arsenal F.C. over two legs (2-1 on aggregate), so this is Chelsea’s last opportunity to win a trophy this season after finishing runner-up in the FA Community Shield to Arsenal F.C. (1-1, 4-1 on penalties) before the start of the season.
The road to the final for Chelsea F.C began in the third round began with a 0-0 draw with Norwich City F.C. at Carrow Road, which resulted in a replay back at Stamford Bridge, and after a 1-1 draw after extra time, Chelsea F.C. won the penalty shootout (5-3) to secure their passage through to the fourth round. In the next two rounds, they defeated both Newcastle United F.C. (3-0) and Hull City A.F.C. (4-0) at Stamford Bridge to progress through to the quarter-finals, where they met Leicester City F.C. at the King Power Stadium.
After a goal from Álvaro Morata put Chelsea F.C 1-0 up after 42 minutes, Leicester City F.C. responded via a goal from Jamie Vardy with 14 minutes remaining to take the quarter-final tie into extra-time, where a goal by Pedro at the end of the first period of extra-time handed Chelsea F.C. a place in the FA Cup semi-finals against Southampton F.C. at Wembley Stadium. After a scoreless opening half, Chelsea F.C. took full control of the semi-final via goals from Olivier Giroud just after half-time, and Morata late on as a substitute for Giroud to book their spot on English football’s biggest day!
Manchester United F.C. under José Mourinho have had a strong season in the English Premier League, but finished 19 points behind their dominant cross-city rivals Manchester City F.C., who became the first team in the Premier League era to reach 100 points in a season. And after finishing runner up in the UEFA Super Cup to Real Madrid C.F. (2-1) at the start of the season, Manchester United F.C. haven’t come close to winning a trophy, being knocked out in the fifth round of the EFL Cup by Bristol City F.C. (2-1), and knocked out in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League by Sevilla FC (2-1 on aggregate).
Manchester United F.C. road to the final was relatively smooth, with a third round win at home (Old Trafford) against Derby County F.C. (2-0), a fourth round victory against Yeovil Town F.C. (4-0) at Huish Park, before heading to the Kirklees Stadium to claim a fifth round victory over Huddersfield Town A.F.C. (2-0) to move through to the quarter-finals, where they met Brighton and Hove Albion F.C. at Old Trafford.
It was a match where Romelu Lukaku scored his 11th goal in 12 FA Cup matches in the first half, before a goal late from Nemanja Matić secured Manchester United F.C. a spot in the semi-finals against Tottenham Hotspur F.C. at Wembley Stadium. However, after the first 11 minutes, Manchester United F.C. were trailing by a goal to nil after conceding their first goal of this season’s FA Cup after Dele Alli finished off a wonderful cross from Christian Eriksen, but responded 13 minutes thanks to a goal from Alexis Sánchez, before a goal midway through the second half by Ander Herrera allowed Manchester United F.C. to book their date with Chelsea F.C. in the 137th FA Cup final.
So, looking at the actual match-up between the two teams, the key players that Chelsea F.C will be looking to are Álvaro Morata, who has scored 15 goals in 47 matches across all competitions, Eden Hazard, who will play his 300th match for Chelsea F.C. on Saturday, has scored 16 goals in 50 matches across all competitions and will be looking to hit top form ahead of the World Cup campaign with Belgium, Willian, who has scored 13 goals across all competitions this season, and will be a key player for Brazil in Russia, especially given the injury and fitness clouds surrounding Neymar, Olivier Giroud, who has been very good since joining the club from Arsenal F.C. in January, as well as Marcos Alonso, who was named in the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Premier League Team of the Year for the 2017-18 season.
While for Manchester United F.C., goalkeeper David de Gea has been a superstar at the back, keeping 18 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, and was selected in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, but in terms of the rest, Romelu Lukaku has starred, scoring 27 goals in 50 appearances, including five goals in as many appearances in the FA Cup, Nemanja Matić has been superb in the midfield, while Alexis Sánchez is a big match player, and will be looking to shine on English football’s biggest stage.
The tactical battle between the two managers in Antonio Conte and José Mourinho will be fascinating given their great desire to claim a trophy to perhaps save them from any possibility of the axe. However, it is more likely that Manchester United F.C. will have greater patience, and will give Mourinho more time to find the success they have struggled to find since Sir Alex Ferguson, regardless of the result on Saturday, compared to the owner of Chelsea F.C. Roman Abramovich, who won’t tolerate the failure to pick up silverware, and perhaps Conte, regardless of the result on Saturday, and given their failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, might jump before he is pushed.
This season, Chelsea F.C. and Manchester United F.C. are one win a piece against each other heading into the FA Cup final, and in head-to-head matches in recent years, Chelsea F.C. have won eight of the last 15 matches against Manchester United F.C., but have lost two of the last three encounters. Overall, Manchester United F.C. have won 77 of their 179 encounters against Chelsea F.C. across all competitions, with Chelsea F.C. winning 53 times, and there have been 49 draws between the two clubs.
However, it will come down to who is the better team on the day, and while I think Chelsea F.C. will be strong, I think José Mourinho will deliver Manchester United F.C. their 13th FA Cup to equal Arsenal’s great record in a tactical masterclass against Conte and Chelsea.