Saturday 19 May 2018

FA Cup final: Chelsea 1-0 United

United quite literally paid the penalty for a poor first half performance as an Eden Hazard spot-kick proved decisive in the cup final at Wembley. The rejuvenated Reds mounted a spirited rally after the break, but Antonio Conte's resilient and disciplined side held firm to ensure they end an indifferent season with a trophy. United, meanwhile, go empty handed from a campaign that promised so much back in the heady days of August.

Romelu Lukaku had to settle for a place on the bench after not being risked following injury, but it was his compatriot Hazard who stole the show to run the Reds ragged as the diminutive string-puller caused United no end of problems. He went close early on as David de Gea blocked well to parry away his low effort after Hazard had seized on Jones underhit pass. Referee Michael Oliver was soon at the heart of proceedings, but to his credit he got every one of the tie's big decisions spot on. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alexis Sanchez both had shouts for a spot-kick waved away, but there were no doubts at all about the call that went in favour of Chelsea in the 22nd minute.

Hazard spun away from his marker and burst clear in a race with Jones - who could only manage to upend the Belgian as he lunged in with a last-ditch challenge. The lack of protests from United's players spoke volumes, and Hazard made no mistake as he sent Dave the wrong way from the resultant spot-kick. Marcus Rashford was crowded out and Jones almost made amends with a header at the end of a half in which the Reds were distinctly second best.
This was the latest in a series of Jekyll and Hyde performances - a showing in keeping with our inconsistent season  - with the timid and tame United of the first half replaced by a resurgent and rejuvenated Red tide upon the resumption.
Thibaut Courtois saved well from Rashford, Nemanja Matic lashed wide from distance and the pressure looked to have paid off when Alexis Sanchez turned in a loose ball after Courtois had saved from Chris Smalling, but the Chilean was flagged offside.

This was the rise in fire and ferocity that a lethargic final urgently needed,  with the Blues penned back deep in their own half as United continued to lay siege. It was Conte's side who almost put the tie beyond doubt, though, with DDG to the rescue again to deny Marcos Alonso as he shaped to shoot.

Jesse Lingard and Rashford almost linked up wonderfully for the leveller, before Courtois did well again as he pushed away a Matic piledriver from distance. United continued to press and saw our best chance go begging with eight minutes left. Antonio Valencia finally produced a set-piece worthy of the name to pick out Paul Pogba - unmarked six yards out - but he could only direct his header off-target and wide.

With it went United's hope of deservedly taking the tie into extra-time.

Overall team performance: 6/10. Awful first half but much stronger in the second.
United Faithful Man of the Match: No one really stood out for me, but Nemanja Matic stood strong and tried to drive the team forward.

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