Eden Hazard’s first half penalty handed Chelsea a 1-0 win in the FA Cup final against Manchester United in what is likely to be Antonio Conte’s final game for the club.
The Belgian was being man-marked by Ander Herrera from the first whistle but he capitalised on Phil Jones’ lax defending midway through the first half and was brought down by the defender as he raced through on goal.
Hazard, who now has a complete set of domestic trophies, sent David De Gea the wrong way to put the Blues one up.
United pushed for an equaliser and thought they had it through Alexis Sanchez but the Chilean’s effort was disallowed for offside.
The Blues frustrated United and held on to redeem themselves for last season’s defeat to Arsenal.
Mourinho assigned Ander Herrera the unenviable task of man-marking Hazard, hoping that he could repeat the heroics that saw him given the man of the match award during a 2-0 win against the Blues at Old Trafford last season.
But there was to be no repeat. From the first moments of the match Hazard, expecting the deployment, was taking Herrera into areas of the pitch that Mourinho would prefer he didn’t enter and in the end it was the Belgian that had control.
Herrera, in truth, could have done little about Hazard’s opener. The Belgian made Jones pay for ball-watching and raced through on goal after pouncing on a loose ball.
Hazard was well inside the box when Jones brought him down and Michael Oliver had no option but to point to the spot.
The only question left – before Hazard stepped up for the penalty – was whether Jones would be sent off but the defender was saved by the double jeopardy rule.
Hazard stepped up and calmly sent De Gea the wrong way.
In that moment, the game swung irreversibly in Chelsea’s favour.
Chelsea’s gameplan was now perfectly set-up and the irony wouldn’t have been lost on Mourinho.
Conte was doing to him as he so often did to others.
Chelsea afforded United possession and allowed full-backs Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young to have the ball in wide areas.
With no Romelu Lukaku in the middle, Marcus Rashford was controlled by three defenders and Chelsea were able to hit United on the counter-attack when they recovered the ball.
It’s exactly how Mourinho has had success against top teams in the past and notably against Liverpool and Tottenham this season.
Lukaku failed a late fitness test on the morning of the game and his absence proved costly.
The Belgian ‘s been struggling with an ankle injury since last April and Chelsea exposed United’s overreliance on the forward to devastating effect.
The Blues sat off United but they knew that doing so would give Hazard more space.
As time went on, Herrera neglected his man-marking role and Hazard’s influence on the game grew.
United improved after the break. Pogba, who was marshalled in the first half, started to dictate play but Lukaku’s absence left United without a tactic that they’ve too often leaned on this term. Alexis Sanchez thought he got United on level terms when he turned home Thibaut Courtois’ fumble on the hour mark but replays showed he was offside.
Rashford then had the chance of the match to equalise but Jesse Lingard’s ball was overhit and the forward saw his clipped effort batted away by Courtois. Lukaku came on with 20 minutes to play and his rustiness showed he failed to get the all-important touch on Pogba’s header from a corner. It summed up United’s display. In truth, Chelsea had little to deal with in the final 20 minutes and the victory was sealed with ease in the final moments.
For Conte, it appears to be a successful goodbye. The Italian is expected to leave the club at the end of the season after failing to qualify for the Champions League but today’s victory means he ends two seasons at the club with two trophies.
His task at Stamford Bridge was to reestablish Chelsea after the dire final days of Mourinho’s second term and he’s done that. For United, the defeat raises worrying question marks about Mourinho’s tactics and his reliance on Lukaku. Without him, United looked boid of ideas and unable to craft genuine moments of creativity.
Mourinho had won 12 of his 14 cup finals before today’s game and the defeat exposes a further chink in his armour. An armour that looked impenetrable a few seasons ago. He will hate the fact that it was Conte that exposed it.
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