Jose Mourinho, a 1-0 result, silverware for Chelsea after some dogged defending – these three tenets of football in England seem synonymous. Yet, on Saturday, after a particularly harrowing ninety minutes of football at the Wembley, Mourinho ended up on the losing side, his Manchester United side subjected to a fine display of 'parking the bus' by Chelsea who have otherwise underperformed the whole season.
Although Antonio Conte enhanced his reputation as ‘a serial winner’ by winning his first ever domestic cup competition in the 137th FA Cup final, his future at the London club remains uncertain after he failed to guide Chelsea to Champions League qualification next season, notwithstanding the fact that a section of the Chelsea dressing room is disenchanted by his rigorous tactics even while large factions of the Chelsea fanbase remain enamoured by the Italian.
The FA Cup final was a painful watch for modernists who live by the philosophy of attacking football, but it was a portrayal of English football at its orthodox best – rigid tactical systems, lack of ground-breaking ideas in the attacking third and last-ditch defending. Except, Eden Hazard did not get the memo. As Phil Jones suffered yet another brain-freeze moment in the 21st minute of the cup final, Hazard collected Cesc Fabregas’ curling pass to drive straight at the heart of the United defence, forcing Jones to lunge into a tackle and concede a penalty.
In a moment which could foreshadow England’s fate during their upcoming meeting against Belgium in the FIFA World Cup, Hazard put Chelsea in the lead, the solitary-goal advantage proving too much to overcome for Mourinho’s disjointed band of highly-paid footballers, some of them the finest talents of their national teams.
“I congratulate them because they won but I don't think they deserved to win. I think we deserved to win, we were the better team but that's football. It’s disappointing,” Mourinho told reporters after the match, but his side was far from the ruthless teams Mourinho have come to be associated with.
Marcus Rashford was handed a start in light of Romelu Lukaku's lack of fitness, but the young Englishman failed to trouble the Chelsea backline at all – his positioning was suspect for most of the game as he constantly drifted away from the central position. Rashford's mindset does not bode well for England in the lead up to the World Cup, but the youngster wasn’t the only culpable Red Devil on Saturday.
While Hazard dazzled all evening, Alexis Sanchez embodied his quieter self – occasionally crafting passes to stretch the Chelsea defence, but not posing much threat to Thibaut Courtois' goal. Antonio Rudiger put in a solid shift – his stoic, unwavering performance handing him a 'Man of the Match' award, the German underlining Chelsea's dogmatic nature this season which helped Conte's soldiers clinch a silverware even in a season of mediocrity.
“I leave happy with my players, very happy with them and for me, that’s really important. I gave everything I could and I know the players gave absolutely everything they could,” Mourinho opined but United fans are far from being content. Although United finished second in the league (their best finish in the post-Fergie era), Mourinho has come under the scanner for his style of football – pragmatic yet ineffective.
His pragmatic brand of football resulted in clear-cut chances only after Lukaku and Martial were substituted late in the second half, the latter's exclusion surprising in hindsight. Chelsea did not afford United many chances, the best falling to Pogba who headed wide from six yards. It was United’s best chance to level the scores.
N’Golo Kante, alongside Bakayoko, who has slowly grown into his role in Chelsea's midfield in the past few weeks, outclassed the United midfield trio of Pogba, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic even as Fabregas struggled to find his rhythm.
“I’m very satisfied because today it was very difficult to win the FA Cup against a really great team like Man United so we must be pleased. It wasn’t easy but I’m very happy for our fans and my players. They deserve this win, to win an important trophy in a season which was very difficult for many reasons,” Conte may be uncertain of his immediate future but there is no denying that he pulled one over his arch nemesis in England.
Both clubs will face rebuilding in summer, yet their respective manager's job securities are a point of irony – the FA Cup winning Conte faces the axe while trophyless Mourinho will be afforded another shot.
The FA Cup final was a testament to the gulf in playing style which has developed among the likes of City and Liverpool with that of Chelsea and United, and perhaps their managers' footballing philosophies resulting in the varying fortunes of these clubs in England and Europe this season.
The revolving managerial door at Chelsea has never stood in the path of silverware, but Chelsea must reinvent themselves and bring in reinforcements to not only match up to the title contenders, but to also keep the likes of Hazard and Courtois at the club. United, on the contrary, need to find a semblance of identity to convert their close finishes to victory and to reclaim their status as an elite club.
Updated Date: May 20, 2018 13:33:04 IST