Chelsea ended an underwhelming season on a high note as Eden Hazard sunk Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final.
Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea to a 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
The 27-year-old forward fuelled speculation over his future this week by stating he will wait and see how Chelsea's close-season transfer policy develops before committing to a new contract at Stamford Bridge.
But he was all business at England's national stadium as he turned the first half into an ordeal for Phil Jones – the United defender whose clumsy foul meant Hazard won and converted a 22nd-minute penalty.
United improved upon a tepid showing after the break and Alexis Sanchez had a goal ruled out for offside, but even the late introduction of Romelu Lukaku on his return from an ankle injury could not force an equalizer.
It meant a sweet victory for Antonio Conte over his rival Jose Mourinho on what could prove his farewell outing as Chelsea coach, with the FA Cup a notable consolation after their Premier League title defense slumped to a fifth-place finish.
As in the semi-final win over Tottenham, David de Gea was preferred to United's regular cup goalkeeper Sergio Romero and the Spain international was called upon in the ninth minute.
Jones gave away possession and Tiemoue Bakayoko set Hazard running at the backpedalling England defender, who he skipped past and forced De Gea to save with his right boot at the near post.
Bakayoko and Sanchez had half-hearted penalty appeals turned down but there was little doubt for referee Michael Oliver when he later pointed to the United spot.
An utterly hapless start to the game continued for Jones, who blundered through Hazard as the Belgium star darted around him after bringing Cesc Fabregas' lofted pass under his spell.
Conte was furious on the touchline after Jones was only yellow carded – in line with the International Football Association Board update brought in from last season – but Hazard was a picture of calmness as he stroked home, sending De Gea the wrong way.
Jones had a chance to make amends but headed wide at the far post from Ashley Young's left-wing cross, with United belatedly arriving as an attacking force in the closing minutes of the half.
Antonio Rudiger blocked well from Marcus Rashford after Paul Pogba drove a counter-attack in stoppage time.
OK, it wasn’t a classic. But should Chelsea care? Nope! They’ve just won the FA Cup for the eighth time in their history! It’s the first cup victory on Conte’s managerial CV. And a first domestic cup defeat in England for Mourinho. Chelsea were the better side in the first half, and defended with great purpose in the second. United only really showed what they could do after the restart. But chances were at a premium for both sides, and Pogba missed United’s golden opportunity to equalize with that free header in the closing stages. Chelsea were the deserved winners, even if the contest was tight.
FULL TIME: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
Yep! Chelsea have won the 2018 FA Cup! On the touchline, Conte leaps around in joy ... before giving his old foe Mourinho a hug.
90 min +5: Willian threatens to burst clear down the left. Mata is forced to toe-poke out for a corner. That’s surely it.
90 min +4: Now Mata crosses from the right ... and forces Moses to eyebrow out for a corner ... which is sent straight down the throat of Courtois!
90 min +3: Valencia crosses high from the right. Matic goes up to meet it, but his header flies harmlessly high and wide right. Courtois is booked for taking an age over the resulting goal kick.
90 min +2: Chelsea continues to keep United pressed deep in their own half.
90 min +1: Willian’s first act is to run at United down the left. He can’t break clear into the box, but United need a goal and they’re being pressed back at the wrong end of the pitch.
90 min: Hazard bursts down the left, a gorgeous ball-on-string dribble in the circumstances, and wins a corner off Mata. It gives them the opportunity to faff in the corner. They win a throw. Then Willian comes on for Hazard. A brave call if United force an equalizer and take the match to extra time ... and there are five extra minutes to be added!
89 min: Morata comes on for the very hard-working Giroud.
88 min: Young slips a pass down the inside-left for Sanchez, just inside the box but with his back to goal. There’s a sea of blue shirts behind him. Sanchez lays off to Martial, who tries to float one, George Best style, into the net from a draft angle on the left. It flies harmlessly over the bar.
87 min: Mata comes on for Jones. It’s fair to say this is symbolic of a change of artistic intention.
86 min: Hazard and Fabregas take the ball for a walk down the right. Their perambulations eat up 60 seconds or so.
85 min: Sanchez sends a low fizzer wide left from 20 yards. He wants a corner for a deflection - he is livid - but he’s not going to get it.
84 min: Wembley is a very tense place. United are pressing Chelsea back again, but still, there’s no way through.
82 min: This is end-to-end now. Hazard dribbles down the Chelsea left but is stopped by Smalling. Martial threatens to break down the United left and earns a corner. From which Pogba is found, alone on the penalty spot, but he sends his free header wide right when it was surely easier to get something, anything, on target! He holds his head in his hands. What a chance that was!
80 min: Matic shoots from 25 yards. It’s a rising missile, and Courtois does very well to punch it around the post. From the corner, Martial has a dig from the edge of the box. Azpilicueta gets in the way and the deflected shot loops into the hands of the keeper.
79 min: Jones is back on. A rare period of possession for Chelsea. They stroke it around the middle in the professional, clock-bothering style. How they’ve needed this, in the face of United’s near-relentless attack since the restart.
77 min: At first, Giroud looked to have come off worse, but he’s up and about soon enough. Jones has cut his head open, though, and needs taping up. He’s off getting those running repairs.
75 min: Valencia robs Alonso down the right and tees up Martial, whose shot is deflected softly into Courtois’ arms. Then up the field, Giroud is nutted in the back of the head by Jones as the pair contest a high ball. Ooyah, oof.
73 min: Lingard puts Rashford clear down the inside-right channel. Rashford draws Courtois but his shot is tipped away by the keeper. A wonderful save. At which point United make a change, Lingard and Rashford making way for Martial and Lukaku.
71 min: A huge chance for Chelsea to score a second! Kante drives at the United box, then feeds Alonso on his right. Alonso takes too long and shoots low towards the near corner, and de Gea’s not going to be beaten from there. He parries. Moses latches onto the loose ball, to the right of goal, and tries to flick it past Young. The ball hits Young’s arm, which moved a little towards the ball. The decision goes to VAR, but there’s no penalty given. Perhaps Young was too close to act, but that’s a contentious decision all right. There’ll be debates of course, but it looked like a penalty.
69 min: Lingard earns a United corner down the right. What follows is not much cop. But since coming out for the second half revived, United have done everything but score.
67 min: Young goes down the left and is blocked by Azpilicueta. He doesn’t get the free kick and takes out his frustration by getting up in the Chelsea player’s grille. For a split second, it threatens to boil over. Play nicely, everyone.
66 min: This is still all United. Valencia tries to break clear down the right, but can’t find a gap in the blue line. Chelsea surely can’t keep soaking up this pressure, though. They’re giving the ball away with metronomic regularity.
64 min: A brief pause as Courtois recovers from that good old stretch, while the offside decision is checked by the VAR. It’s fine. We play on.
63 min: Rashford is bowled over on the right. Free kick, which he takes himself. Jones, on the penalty spot, guides a header towards the bottom right. It’s heading in! But Courtois stretches to claw it out. However, Sanchez is lurking and knees the rebound into the net. He wheels off to celebrate ... but the flag goes up for offside. It’s the correct decision, though it was very close.
61 min: Rudiger lashes a long pass down the left wing. Hazard scampers after it, races along the touchline, and then zip down the byline. It’s like a game of Amidar. He thrashes a shot-cum-cross straight at de Gea, who handles well.
59 min: United are dominating possession and territory. Chelsea are finding it very hard to get out of their final third. And this time United are asking serious questions. Matic has a shot which bobbles harmlessly wide ... but they’re racking up some chances now. On the touchline, Mourinho applauds his men.
57 min: Pogba shoots and wins a corner ... from which Chelsea break upfield. Hazard tears past Herrera, then cut inside, past Valencia. He’s upended, and that’s Valencia in the book.
56 min: Herrera splits Chelsea’s back four with a slide-rule pass down the inside right that releases Valencia. The right-back is clear in the area but looks for a pullback instead of shooting. Rashford has a blast that’s parried by Courtois. Pogba tries again but lifts a soft one into the keeper’s hands. This is miles better from United.
55 min: Chelsea are sitting deep and living dangerously. Lingard dribbles his way into the box and causes some bedlam. Chelsea half clear. Herrera slips a pass down the left and Young floats a chip over the bar from an ambitious angle.
53 min: Rashford curls a vicious free-kick into the mixer. It might even have been a direct shot. Either way, Pogba rises but just misses his attempted header, six yards out. Courtois punches out bravely in the middle of a crowded box. United are on top here.
52 min: Young dribbles his way down the left and goes over the outstretched leg of Moses. That was a slightly cheeky one, he bought that very cheaply. It’s a free kick to the left of the Chelsea box, though, in a very dangerous position.
50 min: Hazard is down, having taken an accidental finger in the eye from Smalling in a midfield tussle. Or maybe it was a crack across the nose. Either way, he’ll be fine to continue. A splash of water on the face and a dap with a sponge will do the trick. Pleasingly old-fashioned treatment.
48 min: United have been first to pretty much everything since the break. Chelsea haven’t come out for the second half yet.
46 min: Pogba, dropping deep, spreads a lovely pass wide right for Rashford, who lays off to Sanchez, who slides the ball wide right for Valencia. The resulting attempt at a cross comes off Alonso then back off Valencia for a goal kick, but it looks like United are determined to play at a higher tempo. That was much better.
And we’re off again! Chelsea get the second half underway. No changes.
HALF TIME: Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
Giroud nearly releases Hazard into the United box with a cute first-time cushioned pass. United flood up the other end, Pogba driving into the area from the left, Rashford miskicking at a chance from the penalty spot. Rudiger hacks clear, and the players trot off to the changing room for their half-time tactical de-brief. Those last 60 seconds of the half were the most exciting yet! Typical. Another 45 minutes like that, then, please!
45 min: ... United create their best chance of the game so far! The ball’s worked to Young, out on the left. He sends an inswinger to the far post. Jones rises highest, but can only head wide right from close range. A tight angle, to be fair.
44 min: Young drops a shoulder to circumvent Moses on the outside, but is cynically shoulder-barged to the floor. A free kick. It should have been a booking, but no. From the set piece, a corner. And from that ...
42 min: Matic, of all people, channels his inner Garrincha and nearly twinkle-toes his way through a small gap down the left. Chelsea shut that door quickly enough. United have done next to nothing in attack so far. On the touchline, Mourinho looks accordingly frustrated.
40 min: Fabregas hits the corner, from the left, long. De Gea rises and a telescopic arm extends to punch the ball away. Fine keeping with the likes of Giroud lurking with intent.
39 min: Hazard nips through a small gap between Pogba and Lingard, and is fouled by both of them at once. The resulting free kick is hoicked into the mixer, and Smalling is panicked enough to head straight out for a corner.
38 min: Pogba’s work earns United a corner on the left. Sanchez tries to curl a saucy one straight into the net, but Fabregas is guarding the near post and heads out for another corner. That second one goes straight down Courtois’ throat.
36 min: Fabregas batters one witlessly straight into the wall. This is not a classic. But there have been many worse finals over the years, and there’s still plenty of time to go.
35 min: Sanchez clips the heel of Bakayoko, who was threatening to break into the United box down the left. A free kick in a very dangerous position, just to the left of the D.
34 min: This is very bitty. Chelsea nudge the action up to the middle of the park, away from their goal, where both teams faff awhile.
32 min: A frustrated-looking Sanchez tries to blooter one in from 25 yards. It’s nowhere near the target.
31 min: United are dominating possession now. But it’s sterile domination at the moment. Chelsea’s back line is holding firm. There’s no way into the box.
29 min: United press Chelsea back a little. This has been their best spell of the match. Pogba drifts inside, but his shot flies harmlessly wide left. Courtois had it well covered anyway, despite the sun gleaming in his face.
27 min: Sanchez pulls the free kick back for Herrera, who shanks his shot dismally. But it dribbles straight back to Sanchez, who is able to curl in a cross for Pogba. The big man’s header clanks off Rudiger and that’s a corner ... which is wasted. But that’s a little bit better from United, who have seen plenty of the ball but not so much of it in Chelsea’s final third.
26 min: Pogba is fouled just to the left of the Chelsea area. A chance for United to finally work Courtois.
24 min: Well that got the crowd going. Wembley had been a little quiet before Hazard tore United in two with that glorious take and dribble. Chelsea wanted Jones sent off, but he was going for the ball, and the new double-jeopardy law saved him.
GOAL! Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United (Hazard 22 pen)
Once Jones is booked for his unique contribution, Hazard steps up and strokes the ball into the bottom right. Has there been a cooler cup-final penalty since the days of Eric Cantona?
PENALTY TO CHELSEA!
21 min: I knew that would do it. Fabregas strokes a glorious ball down the inside-right channel. Hazard stuns it with one touch, tearing into acres down the field. He enters the box, and is brought crashing down by Jones, who tries to toe-poke the ball away but falls over, spins through 180 degrees, and ends up felling Hazard with his back.
20 min: This final hasn’t got going yet.
18 min: Sanchez goes on a determined dribble down the centre. For a second, it looks as though Chelsea’s defense will be prised open by his ball-glued-to-boot stylings, but the door shuts on the edge of the box. That was a fine run.
16 min: Up the other end, Sanchez claims a penalty after a brush with Moses, who was busy falling down behind him. He then goes down near Azpilicueta’s trailing leg, but there didn’t seem much contact either. To be fair to Sanchez, his appeals weren’t particularly vocal.
14 min: Bakayoko tries to turn Matic on the edge of the United box, then falls inside it. He wants a penalty because Matic’s hand was light on his back. Older fans who remember the Sinclair-Kanchelskis decision in 1994 would have been hoping for a little karmic payback, but it’s not coming.
13 min: United have yet to find theirs, though. Young is seeing quite a bit of the ball out on the left, but his deep, looping cross here is easily snaffled by Courtois.
11 min: Moses, tight on the right touchline, hooks a lovely first-time pass down the channel for Giroud. United’s defense is split open ... but Giroud’s been flagged offside. Chelsea are slowly finding a little rhythm.
9 min: The resulting free kick is worked wide left to Young. His cross is headed clear by Cahill. The ball’s then misplaced in midfield by Jones, allowing Sanchez to skedaddle down the middle at pace. He drifts left and drops a shoulder to pass the half-recovering Jones, then fires for the bottom left. De Gea sticks a leg out to stop. A lovely run and a fine save.
8 min: Chelsea press a little, but go nowhere. United break back upfield through Sanchez and then Lingard, who is brought down by Kante. Young isn’t happy about it at all, but the referee awards a free kick and nothing else.
6 min: It’s been a nervous start by both teams. Nothing’s happening at all. Some light speculative sparring. Probably not the best time for Hubert O’Hearn to proselytize for the FA Cup, but here he goes anyway: “When I was growing up in Canada and the FA Cup Final was the only live football match the CBC broadcast, I always thought that this was the highest achievement a club could win. Years pass. Well, to paraphrase Oscar Levant upon hearing of the passing of George Gershwin, I have heard that the FA Cup is dead, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to. This is the true championship of all of England, not just a 20-team Division.”
4 min: Otherwise, it’s been a slow, studious start with players seemingly happy just to get their first touch of the ball. United are seeing a little bit more of it, though to no great effect yet.
2 min: Alonso dribbles down the left and is bundled over from behind by the ever-busy Herrera. A free kick, and a chance for Chelsea to load the box. Fabregas takes, but it’s an awful delivery, floating straight into the grateful arms of de Gea.
And we’re off! United get the party started. Young launches it long down the left. Courtois claims it. The keeper’s peering into a fierce sun, without a cap. Good luck, then. “I’m going for a classic,” predicts Simon McMahon. “1-0 United. Or 1-0 Chelsea. But either way, done in the classic style.”
The teams are out! Both teams are able to wear their famous colors: Chelsea are in blue, United in red. The national anthem is belted out. The crowd roars. Pitchside flamethrowers blast away theatrically. The RAF fly past. We’ll be off in a minute!
And now the singing of the traditional cup-final hymn, Abide with Me. Each note sounds especially poignant this year, as tribute is paid to Ray Wilkins. The much-loved midfielder, who served both of these clubs with class, quality and distinction, passed away last month. Two huge banners picturing Wilkins flutter in the gentle summer breeze: dressed in Chelsea blue on one, lifting the cup for United on the other. That trophy will be presented today by his widow Jackie. Wilkins won the trophy three times as assistant manager of Chelsea, in 2000, 2009 and 2010, and as a player for United in 1983 when he did this:
Pre-match singalong. Nobody releases cup-final songs anymore, which on balance is probably a good thing. Still, you can’t help feeling something’s been lost along the way. Here’s some beige period footage of Chelsea recording one back in the day (for the 1972 League Cup final, but let’s not start pulling at threads).
It’s a glorious day at Wembley. The vibes coming off the two managers: not so sunny. Both appeared a little downbeat, perhaps feeling the pressure ahead of a game that, if lost, will guarantee them opprobrium a-plenty. Both launched defenses of their season’s work, though neither made their case with any great verve or passion. Life imitating art, hey. Mourinho also made sure everyone knew that Lukaku had declared himself not fit enough to start. Another agenda-setting masterclass. You have to love him.
Jose Mourinho speaks! “Lukaku has decided he is not ready to start, but is ready to give us some help. One thing is to start a match and play for 90 minutes, another is to be on the bench and play a few minutes. And that’s what he told us he was ready to do. We change Romelu with Marcus Rashford. Of course they are two different players but he will play in the same position with different qualities. It is not fair and not my philosophy as a manager to put the responsibility on one player, we have to defend and attack as a team, and Marcus is just one of them. It is better to win that lose, it is much more beautiful, but it is not fair to analyse my players and what they did during the season because of one result. They are one of the two best teams in the two most important domestic competitions in a very difficult country with lots of very good teams. So I think they did a positive season. Can we win? Let’s try everything.”
Antonio Conte speaks! “We have worked very hard to prepare for this game. The result of the last game was not positive, and the team have to play in a better way if they want to win this final. It is normal to send messages of positivity to the group, but the best way to do that is to work, and we prepare that way. Our starting XI is the same team we played against Liverpool two weeks ago. It is the best formation, the best XI for us today. I don’t think we have had a disappointing season, finishing fifth can happen in England. It is a great achievement to play two finals in a row in this important competition; now we have to change the result of last season.”
Chelsea makes three changes to the team that didn’t turn up at Newcastle on the final day of the Premier League last Sunday. Andreas Christensen, Emerson, and Ross Barkley make way for Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso, and Cesc Fabregas.
Manchester United played an experimental side against Watford last weekend. Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford, and Alexis Sanchez are the only folk to make today’s starting XI as well. The big news for them: Romelu Lukaku is fit though he only makes the bench.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rudiger, Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso, Hazard, Giroud.
Subs: Caballero, Barkley, Morata, Pedro, Zappacosta, Willian, Chalobah.
Manchester United: de Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young, Herrera, Matic, Pogba, Lingard, Rashford, Sanchez.
Subs: Bailly, Mata, Lukaku, Martial, Romero, Darmian, McTominay.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).
Chelsea are hoping to avoid becoming the first club to lose back-to-back finals since Newcastle United in the late 1990s. Antonio Conte will be desperate to avoid becoming the first manager to taste defeat in consecutive finals since Howard Kendall in the mid-80s. His side were in decent form for a while back there, with a five-game that took them to this final and within a sniff of fourth place in the League. But then came a home draw with Huddersfield and a miserable no-show at Newcastle. Conte has looked short of energy, his team listless. It’ll be a miserable end to the season if they can’t raise themselves one last time.
But United didn’t have a great deal of late-season momentum either. They finished their Premier League card with a defeat at Brighton, a goalless draw at West Ham, and a nondescript home win over Watford. Though to be fair, second place had long been in the bag. A trophy would throw a different light on a season during which Mourinho has copped flak from his own punters for his style of play. It’ll be a miserable end to the season if they can’t raise themselves one last time.
Two slightly erratic teams, capable of great things as well as the odd misfire ... but they’ll both take a look at the recent head-to-head record and fancy their chances. United were victorious in the most recent clash: a 2-1 comeback win at Old Trafford ... but Chelsea won the other League meeting, back in November; they also knocked United out of the cup last season. United have won two of the last three meetings between the clubs ... but those are their only victories in the last 15, a period in which Chelsea have won on eight occasions. So you can slice it according to preference.