A professional performance from favourites Chelsea on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Wembley helped Antonio Conte’s men seal a spot in the finals of the FA Cup through a 2-0 win over Southampton. With the win, Antonio Conte also set up a date with his arch nemesis in England, Jose Mourinho on a day which will be overtly significant for fans of the London club – 19th of May.
Southampton, winless since November of last year, provided futile resistance and did not even came close to thwarting Chelsea’s chances of winning a silverware this season, but the match belonged to the two Chelsea forwards and Eden Hazard.
Here are five takeaways from the lesser intriguing game among the two FA Cup semi-finals:
The ever effervescent Eden Hazard
There are brilliant playmakers, there are explosive wingers, there are fanatic goalscorers and then there is Eden Hazard. On an evening when Mohamed Salah was crowned the PFA Player of the Year, his former teammate sizzled through the Southampton defence.
Be it a shimmying run through the centre of the park early in the first half, a quick combination play with Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud on the left flank or orchestrating a counter-attack once N'Golo Kante recovers the ball in the midfield, Hazard is the catalyst which makes Chelsea tick. In a team filled to the brim with talents yet underperforming every other season, it is the Belgian whose displays often set the tone for Chelsea’s results.
He not only created the initial clear-cut chances for Chelsea, one of which allowed Willian to hit the bar, but he also registered five shots, a trait of his gameplay which has certainly improved this season. It was Hazard’s composure on the ball and presence of mind which helped Chelsea take the lead in second half through Giroud after Cesc Fabregas had floated a lofted ball amidst a string of Southampton shirts.
There is a growing sense of anticipation among Chelsea fans, that this would be the summer post World Cup when an elite club (like Real Madrid) will come calling for Chelsea’s No. 10, and even the most ardent of supporters would admit that there is another level to the Belgian’s game, which might be unlocked in the right setup – the fact that Hazard is a match-winner is set in stone, but the hypothesis that he can do it week in & week out still needs some concrete evidence.
Olivier Giroud – A big game player
Quick feet, precision, a big heart, intelligent decision making – Giroud has it all, but the 31-year-old has mostly flown under the radar during his time in England, perhaps due to Arsenal’s struggles, but the Frenchman was at his absolute finest on Sunday in a competition he clearly loves (Giroud has won two of the three previous FA Cups) in a stadium whose atmosphere he revels in (Giroud not only has a fantastic scoring record at Wembley, but has also won all 10 games he played there).
Fresh off his brace against the same opponents which instigated a comeback victory for the Blues in the English Premier League and his combination play with Alvaro Morata against Burnley, Giroud was handed another start and the former Arsenal forward indulged himself alongside Hazard and Willian.
Staying true to his self, Giroud netted Chelsea’s first of the night with exceptional close control of the ball, capering through Southampton’s penalty area, leaving at least four Red shirts in his wake, finally finishing the move with the outside of his boot.
Although Morata’s late header off Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross sealed the victory for Chelsea, the match clearly belonged to the January arrival, whose move to Arsenal’s bitter rivals to secure a place in France’s World Cup squad clearly working in his favour.
Chelsea’s porous defence
For a team coached by Antonio Conte and boasting of some of the finest defenders in the country, Chelsea concede a lot of chances and could have suffered for their lackadaisical attitude at the back, had Martin Atkinson not called a soft foul on Willy Caballero after Chelsea’s backup goalie had spilled the ball into his own net. Chelsea were also fortunate that Southampton’s calls for a late penalty were denied.
Shane Long and Charlie Austin often found themselves in space to inflict damage on Caballero’s goal, but Southampton simply have been a disjointed side for much of the season – they struggled to seize moments of opportunity which could have changed the course of the match.
Mark Hughes set an unenviable record
Mark Hughes became only the second manager in the history of the FA Cup to get knocked out of the world’s oldest club competition on two separate occasions (with Stoke City and Southampton) in the same season.
That the Saints are likely to get relegated, as they toil four points below the safety net for survival, is all but given, but Hughes made it hard on himself and his players by choosing to fight on both fronts – escaping relegation as well as qualifying for the FA Cup finals. The season, however, is likely to end in disappointment for the Hampshire-based club.
Mourinho vs Conte – the final chapter
“In this type of game, the most important thing is to reach your target. To reach another final is very important for the players, important for the club, and especially it is important for the fans. I’m delighted for them,” Antonio Conte proclaimed after reaching his second consecutive FA Cup final.
His time at Chelsea might be waning down, but there is no denying the fact that the Italian singlehandedly devised Chelsea’s Premiership win last season, his battles with Mourinho adding fuel to the fire of rivalry between Manchester United and Chelsea, and affecting the already strained relationship between the Portuguese manager and Chelsea fans.
With Conte’s imminent departure in summer, the FA Cup final has procured some added significance as the probable final showdown between two of the world’s finest tacticians leading some of the finest footballers in the business into a crusade for glory and esteem.
Updated Date: Apr 23, 2018 10:04 AM