KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Jose Mourinho has only ever ended two seasons, during his top-flight coaching career, without a trophy. That near-guarantee of seasonal silverware was doubtless among significant reason Manchester United contracted him to succeed Louis Van Gaal two years ago.
The FA Cup Final against Chelsea represents the last royal chance for Mourinho not to add a third ‘empty’ season to his cv. The signs are good.
United finished a decisive second in the Premier League to neighbours City and his old nemesis Pep Guardiola. Chelsea, by contrast, made a mess of their Premier title defence and faded away to finish a disappointing fifth.
The Blues will compete in the Europa League next season whatever the outcome at Wembley but that is not what owner Roman Abramovich wants to see. Hence this will be Antonio Conte’s last match in charge while Mourinho, win or lose, will march on at Old Trafford.
The prospects of the Italian winding up his Stamford Bridge tenure with a trophy flourish are limited. Chelsea were poor in defence, midfield and attack in collapsing 3-0 to Newcastle last weekend in their concluding Premier fixture.
Conte will need to work a minor psychological miracle to raise the morale and commitment of key players focused on protecting their fitness ahead of the World Cup finals in Russia. Key among these misfiring individuals is Eden Hazard to whom Chelsea will look to create the openings for Olivier Giroud or the largely disappointing Alvaro Morata.
At the other end of the pitch United have greater creativity, firepower and cohesion through Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku, not to mention the back-up striking talents of Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial.
Their mutual record is all-square. United beat Chelsea 4-0 in 1994 and Chelsea won 1:0 in 2007. But United have won the FA Cup 12 times (last in 2016) compared with Chelsea’s seven (last 2012).
If form and statistics favour United then Chelsea fans can only fall back on the great tradition of cup upsets . . . like their own defeat in last year’s final by Arsenal.