A Predictable Tale of FA Cup Final Failure against Blues
Last season Manchester United won two major trophies, the League Cup and Europa League to mark a successful first season for Jose Mourinho as the Red Devils boss.
The thought was that this season the club wouldn’t just improve their dire league position from last year but would add to a trophy cabinet that hadn’t held the Premier League since 2013.
United ended up finishing a record 19 points behind the runaway winners Manchester City so the FA Cup Final against Chelsea became a chance to essentially save the season.
In short, the players never turned up as Chelsea triumphed 1-0 at Wembley.
The fact that United had 18 shots on goal, the most without scoring since their match against Burnley in October 2016, highlighted their inefficiency and inability to break a stubborn Chelsea defence down.
The tactics of Antonio Conte were clear from the off. Olivier Giroud started up-front as on outlet for the likes of Eden Hazard to run off the ball and twist and turn his way towards the goal.
It wasn’t too long into the first half when we saw this happen for the first time. With Giroud a nuisance he took away Chris Smalling in defence, allowing Cesc Fabregas to launch a curling aerial ball in the direction of Hazard.
Jones, out of position, was surprised as much as anyone else in the stadium at the killer pass, and desperate to race back to clear the ball fouled Hazard in the process with an idiotic and clumsy challenge.
Hazard made no mistake from the spot. United couldn’t cope with Chelsea’s outstretched back five and lacked the necessary width and power to win the midfield battle.
In truth though, clear cut chances were few and far between. Ironically it was Jones who became the most likely Red Devil protagonist to equalise in the first half, meeting a deep Ashley Young cross at the back post on the stroke of half-time, but the Englishman’s header drifted wide of the upright and Chelsea breathed a sigh of relief.
Then United upped the tempo. As the game opened up in the second half Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba came agonisingly close for United but both fluffed golden opportunities, the latter for Pogba a quite surreal miss from just six yards out from a header.
Chelsea could’ve then sealed it after Marcus Alonso raced clear, picking up an N’Golo Kante through ball, but the Spaniard’s darting run left him too much of an angle and David De Gea would easily react.
Yet there was no late drama as predicted, a sign that United’s mental strength had evaporated in the Wembley heat.
Their starting back four included two former wingers as wing-backs and a centre back partnership of two players who won’t be starting for England at the World Cup in the first match.
It’s a sign of United back-line in need of summer surgery. Without that the club can wave goodbye at the prospect of major trophies next season and say hello to footballing anonymity within the English game.