Football’s oldest trophy, the FA Cup enters its 137th edition as Chelsea and Manchester United face each other in a repeat of the first final at Wembley post its recent renovation.
Below we preview the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United and make predictions.
FA Cup Final Predictions: Chelsea vs Manchester United
While any match between these two sides typically holds gravitas, this edition is made intriguing because of the relative discontent of both camps for season 2017/18. Chelsea has been blue in its mood on the whole, after a reasonable start to the campaign was undermined by backroom issues, particularly with disagreements between manager outgoing Antonio Conte and the Chelsea hierarchy about recruitment. As with the disappointing 2015/16 league campaign, Chelsea will face another season without Champions League football next season due to a 5th place finish behind Liverpool. Man Utd, meanwhile, have been much improved, enjoying their best season since the departure of Alex Ferguson, but that hasn’t added any polish to the concerns over the style of play Jose Mourinho has adopted to achieve those results. Add the exits in the League Cup and UEFA Champions League (with the latter particularly disappointing), and it makes for a spicy cocktail as far as the Old Trafford faithful are concerned.
|Total Goals||First team to score||Odd / Even Goals||Clean Sheet|
|2-3||0.86||Man Utd||0.95||Odd Goals||0.87||Man Utd||1.80|
|6+||21.75||Final Decided by Penalty Shootout||3.87|
|Recent Head to Head Record vs Man United – Man Utd 2 Wins, Chelsea 4 Wins|
|Date||Home||Score||Away||Scored First||Halftime Score|
|Feb 2018||Man United||2-1||Chelsea||Willian ‘32||1-1|
|Nov 2017||Chelsea||1-0||Man United||Morata ‘55||0-0|
|April 2017||Man United||2-0||Chelsea||Rashford ‘7||1-0|
|Mar 2017||Chelsea||1-0||Man United||Kante ‘51||0-0|
|Oct 2016||Chelsea||4-0||Man United||Pedro ‘1||2-0|
|Feb 2016||Chelsea||1-1||Man United||Lingard ‘61||0-0|
|FA Cup Head to Head Record vs Man United – Man Utd 4 Wins, Chelsea 3 Wins, 2 Draws|
|Venue||Stage||Date||Score||Scored First||Halftime Score|
|Stamford Bridge||QF||Mar 2017||Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd||Kante ‘51||0-0|
|Stamford Bridge||QF Replay||Apr 2013||Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd||Ba ‘49||0-0|
|Old Trafford||QF||Mar 2013||Chelsea 2-2 Man Utd||Hernandez ‘5||0-2|
|Wembley||F||May 2007||Chelsea 1-0 Man Utd (aet)||Drogba ‘116||0-0|
|Stamford Bridge||QF Replay||Mar 1999||Chelsea 0-2 Man Utd||Yorke ‘4||0-1|
|Old Trafford||QF||Mar 1999||Chelsea 0-0 Man Utd||0-0|
|Stamford Bridge||3rd Round||Jan 1998||Chelsea 3-5 Man Utd||Beckham ‘23||0-3|
|Villa Park||SF||Mar 1996||Chelsea 1-2 Man Utd||Gullit ‘35||1-0|
|Wembley||F||May 1994||Chelsea 0-4 Man Utd||Cantona ‘60||0-0|
FACT SHEET: CHELSEA
|How they qualified||Beat Norwich (home replay), Newcastle (home), Hull (home), Leicester (away in extra time), Southampton (neutral).|
|Recent Form (all competitions)||Since the start of April: Played 9, 5 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses
Scored 12, Conceded 11; Olivier Giroud has scored 4 of those 11.
|FA Cup Finals Record||12 Finals, 7 wins; Last final (2017 runners up); Last win (2012 over Liverpool)|
|Penalty Shootout Wins||No penalty shootouts contested in final|
|Antonio Conte Major Cup Finals Record & Personal Record vs Jose Mourinho|
|Finals Reached as Coach||2 Finals, Lost both
2-0 to Napoli in Coppa Italia 11/12, 2-1 to Arsenal in FA Cup 16/17
|vs Jose Mourinho||Won 3, Lost 2, Drawn 1||vs Jose Mourinho in Cups||Won 1|
FACT SHEET: MAN UTD
|How they qualified||Beat Derby (home), Yeovil (away), Huddersfield (away), Brighton (home), Tottenham (neutral).|
|Recent Form (all competitions)||Since the start of April: Played 8, 5 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses
Scored 10, Conceded 6; Paul Pogba was involved in 5 of those 9, scoring 3.
|FA Cup Finals Record||19 Finals, 7 wins; Last final (2016 winners); Last defeat (2007 vs Chelsea)|
|Penalty Shootout Wins||1 win out of 1 shootout contested, in 2005 vs Arsenal|
|Jose Mourinho Major Cup Finals Record & Personal Record vs Antonio Conte|
|Finals Reached as Coach||Played 8, Won 7 (vs Barcelona, Southampton, Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Roma, Man Utd), Lost 1 to Atletico Madrid
Copa del Rey (1 win, 1 loss), League Cup (4 wins), Coppa Italia (1 win), FA Cup (1 win)
|vs Antonio Conte||Won 2, Lost 3, Drawn 1||vs Antonio Conte in Cups||Lost 1|
A passing of the torch?
It’s been some time since the Red Devils have managed to best Chelsea in the FA Cup. Under Alex Ferguson, Man Utd experienced a gold age of owning this tournament in the 90’s, but Chelsea have been this tournament’s second most successful recipients since the turn of the 21st century, winning 5 FA Cups, 4 of them coming in 6 years between 2007 and 2012. In fact, Man Utd fans have to cast their minds back to the treble winning side of 1999, to find the last time Chelsea were beaten in the FA Cup by the Red Devils.
Chelsea themselves are in a very odd place; they ended the season playing relatively well, winning 5 matches in a row before their tame draw with Huddersfield hurt any hopes of top 4 qualification. The final day humiliation to Newcastle left coach Antonio Conte feeling largely dejected, and many Blues fans have expressed a view on the social media-spheres preferring the Italian leaves to give the club the best chance of salvaging some pride in the final match of the season. That Conte has managed to get to a second consecutive final has done little to dampen perceptions and feelings of discontent ahead of his imminent departure from London.
Managing by the numbers
While Chelsea have a great record against Man Utd in the FA Cup, their mindset and atmosphere certainly won’t make them favourites to win the final amongst neutrals at least. But it’s once you examine the ridiculously incredible record Jose Mourinho has accumulated that the writing appears to be on the wall. Mourinho’s record in finals is best in class amongst his peers, and it’s clear that while the Portuguese manager’s tactical approach doesn’t tend to win over the possession junkies, or those keen to revisit the entertaining masterclasses under Ferguson, Mourinho knows how to win finals. His only defeat in his 8 major Cup finals remains the Copa Del Rey defeat to Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, in the 2012/13 season which would define all the cascading disappointments that ultimately led to him leaving Real Madrid.
That already makes the final a complicated issue for the Blues to navigate. Man Utd fans may be ambivalent about Mourinho, but his position is certainly nowhere near as untenable as that of Conte. Mourinho attracts trophies, and apart from the obligation that Man Utd expect trophies in general, adding this one in particular allows Man Utd to match Arsenal’s records of most finals (20) and most wins (13) in the tournament’s history, while putting a relatively decent polish on what was largely considered an improved but nonetheless fairly satisfying league campaign.
Key players and tactical considerations
Conte’s use of various 3-at-the-back variants this season is unlikely to change, so it’s simply a question of what he believes will enable Chelsea to create better quality chances while managing what threats emerge from the Man Utd counter attack. In November’s home win at Stamford Bridge, Kante sat deeper, giving licence to the midfield 4 to better support Hazard and Morata, configured more like a striker pair rather than the latter playing off the former. Man Utd also used 3 centre backs that day, however, and since then, especially in key matches against larger opponents, Mourinho has delivered results mostly with a 4-3-3 configuration, notably in matches against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs.
A curious statistic; both teams love to score in the 2nd half, with both sides favouring the last 30 minutes for their goals (40% of all league goals scored in that period). However, Man Utd’s FA Cup this season has skewed this preference even further, where 57% of their goals have come in the final half hour of Cup games. In this season’s FA Cup, Chelsea have been a far more dangerous side just before halftime, scoring 41% of their goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half.
Chelsea’s key players for victory remain their creative forces capable of big game moments; Fabregas showed great glimpses against Liverpool of his ability to dictate creative terms, while Hazard’s raw skill still makes him a massively influential player. Both these sides have highly robust and combative midfield characters who largely have the capacity to cancel each other out, making the approach on the flanks critical to the winning team’s success. Cesar Azpilicueta is responsible for creating 6 of Spanish teammate Alvaro Morata’s league goals, so there’s a case to pay careful attention to how the Spanish defender contributes to attacking efforts from deep. On the opposite flank, Marcos Alonso has also been in decent form in the past month and a half in both attacking and defensive respects.
For Man Utd, the key concern will be the fitness of top scorer Romelu Lukaku, who is still unconfirmed for the final. This doesn’t hurt their prospects too much, given that Alexis Sanchez should be well supported by Marcus Rashford and Jese Lingard in the front 3. But it may dictate a different approach to how the goals are pursued, given Lukaku’s ability to bully opposition defenders, especially aerially. David De Gea’s incredible saving ability should prove a critical foil for the Red Devils to manage any potential threat posed by Hazard or Morata. Ashley Young has carved out a new role for himself at left back, but where his performances lack, the strong midfield of Pogba and Matic is more than adequate to compensate defensively. On the opposite fullback, Antonio Valencia has been once again exemplary in both performances and consistency.
|Chelsea||1.87||v||Man Utd||1.62||Draw 2.12|
Please note betting odds quoted are correct at time of publication and are subject to change. View the latest FA Cup Betting Odds
FA Cup Final Prediction
Manchester United haven’t beaten Chelsea in the FA Cup in nearly 20 years, and it’s looks appropriate to suggest the streak will end in the next FA Cup final. It’s not to be disengenious to Chelsea, who obviously have a very combative midfield, great fullbacks and goals in front; but their weapons haven’t been well configured to run particularly smoothly, ultimately exacerbating the soft centre of Christensen, Rudiger and Courtois, all of whom have had poor seasons by the standards Chelsea demand of them. Cesar Azpilicueta has been far better, but the more time he spends worrying about managing the attacking threat of Pogba or the danger of Sanchez, the less time he spends passing to Alvaro Morata to score goals. Man Utd also have the advantages of a manager with far less psychological weight to bear, a great finals record and the tactical tendencies to win matches reliant on combative defending and making the most of few chances. Unless the Chelsea that was supposed to show up in 2017/18’s league campaign finally does, the flair needed from the Blues to really threaten the Red Devils won’t emerge as needed. Expect a low scoring affair, but one where Man Utd controls the game (not necessarily the ball), and ultimately, the result.
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