Both teams had endured under-whelming campaigns and whatever happened on the 19th May at Wembley, one team would’ve arguably saved their season and the other would have been left wondering what went wrong during the 2017-18 season. Manchester United met Chelsea in the FA Cup final for the first time since 2007, incidentally on the exact same date (19th May) with the same score line. In that game, Chelsea snatched a 115th minute extra time winner through Didier Drogba to prevent United from winning the double that year. It was all too similar this year for United, as Eden Hazard was felled by Phil Jones in the penalty area on the 22-minute mark, with Hazard himself, confidently putting away the spot-kick to give Chelsea the lead.
The game would finish 1-0 to Chelsea after a rather dull affair, giving Chelsea their eighth triumph in this competition. The contrasting emotions from both sides at the final whistle doesn’t really tell the full story, what with the ever-growing possibility of Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte being sacked, despite winning the trophy. Despite this, the club were still able to enjoy their day and soak up the glory of winning a trophy. It was a very different story for the red half of Wembley.
As most football fans know, Manchester United haven’t exactly lit up the Premier League this season, despite finishing 2nd and beating every team in the league. Also, most fans and rival supporters alike would agree that this is largely down to manager, Jose Mourinho’s cautious and non-adventurous style of play. He was criticised after their 0-0 draw at Anfield in October for using said defensive tactics and really, it was from that game onwards, that most matches United played were non-memorable. Indeed, United hadn’t played exciting football for most of the season but the fact was they were in an FA Cup final; a chance to claim some silverware. Surely, this was a chance for Jose in particular, to prove some people wrong and really go for it. As the game unfolded, this clearly wasn’t the case.
After Phil Jones’ ill-timed challenge on Hazard, many people during and after the game were criticising Jose for starting Jones ahead of Eric Bailly. Bailly has played fewer than ten games since returning to full fitness around January. This was possibly already a bad choice made by Jose.
While on the subject of team selection, United’s second half substitutions seemed quite bizarre. Granted, the players who Jose brought on were Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial and these two were more than capable of changing the game but the players who they replaced were Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. The two players on the pitch who were arguably causing the most problems for Chelsea. One player who wasn’t performing to the best of his ability and hasn’t really since he joined the club was Alexis Sanchez. It seemed ridiculous that he stayed on the field and the other two didn’t. In addition, it appeared as though Lukaku was not fully fit after returning from the injury he sustained against Arsenal as he was not able to really get to grips with the game. Therefore, maybe it was unnecessary to rush him back into first team action.
United did not really start attacking until the second half when they were already a goal behind. This was always going to be difficult because Jose is now outside of his comfort zone and Chelsea were able to nullify most of the threats caused by United and just sit on their one goal lead. United did muster up a few goal attempts in the second half, including Marcus Rashford’s shot which was straight at Chelsea ‘keeper, Thibaut Courtois and Alexis Sanchez’ disallowed goal from close range with around twenty minutes remaining. Paul Pogba also missed a straight-forward header from a corner, with the Frenchman left unmarked just outside the six-yard area. Aside from those, there were not too many other memorable moments in that second half as Chelsea eased to the final whistle in the latter stages of the game. It was quite baffling how Mourinho had the audacity to say that United were the better side and Chelsea defended too much in his post-match interview especially since United have had plenty of similar performances during the season.
It was a wasted opportunity by United to win a trophy, a game in which they were probably favourites. Chelsea’s defence of their title win in 2017 far from went according to plan with the Blues eventually finishing in 5th place after a turbulent season. Despite their style of play and heavy criticism for most of the season, United finished 2nd and undisputedly, had a better season. Hence why they were favourites. Chelsea’s confidence must have been at a significant low-point after a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle United on the last day of the season to wash away any slim chance they had of a top four finish. United just didn’t take advantage.
I find it difficult to foresee any realistic title challenge from United next season, especially with Manchester City’s dominance this season. Jose and the players have not done well enough this season and there needs to be changes in the summer.