KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- Chelsea made up for last season’s FA Cup Final defeat by returning to Wembley to succeed against Manchester United on the second big occasion of the day within a matter of west London miles.
A penalty from Eden Hazard after 22 minutes handed the Blues the killing advantage hours after the royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle out at Windsor earlier in the afternoon. Chelsea worked like Trojans: Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Ngolo Kante, Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger were all superb.
Manager Antonio Conte and their fans may ponder all summer why they could not have produced such performances consistently in the Premier League where they were adjudged to have failed by finishing ‘only’ fifth.
United had started with Romelu Lukaku on the substitutes’ bench because of an injury concern while Chelsea brought Thibaut Courtois into goal in place of Willy Caballero who had been their ‘FA Cup keeper.’
Both changes may be viewed as crucial to the outcome. United lacked penetration and Chelsea were defensively secure.
United manager Jose Mourinho thus added a third ‘empty’ season to his cv with United also having finished runners-up to neighbours City in the Premier League and his old managerial nemesis Pep Guardiola.
Chelsea, by contrast, had made a mess of their Premier title defence and faded away to finish a disappointing fifth, prompting speculation that this was the end of the line for Conte, win or lose.
Twice now Chelsea have beaten United in FA Cup Finals after Mourinho’s first domestic cup final defeat in five clashes. United remain the more successful overall with 12 FA Cup triumphs (the last in 2016) compared with Chelsea’s eight.
Chelsea are now level with Tottenham on third place in the all-tine FA Cup honours list.
United had the better of the opening exchanges without creating any chances. Chelsea, by contrast, had one early effort foiled when David De Gea deflected a shot on the break from Hazard and then went ahead through the brilliance of the same player.
In the 21st minute Victor Moses and Fabregas engineered a high-speed break deep in their own half, Hazard ran clear and, after being felled by Phil Jones, rolled home the resultant penalty.
Chelsea claimed that Jones should have been sent off but referee Oliver was correct, in accordance with a recent clarification of the laws of the game, to consider a yellow card sufficient punishment if he believed Jones had intended a legitimate attempt to play the ball.
Paul Pogba pulled an optimistic long-distance drive low and wide of Courtois’s right-hand post as United chased an instant response but Chelsea maintained their defensive concentration and United, for all their increased urgency, failed to make any serious impression.
They might just have levelled on the stroke of half-time but Marcus Rashford, after a superb exchange between Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, fell over his own feet with the goal looming. United thus achieved the remarkable feat of completing an entire half without putting in a shot on goal.
United needed 10 minutes of the second half to display greater attacking intent. Finally Courtois had a shot to save from Rashford, letting fly from the edge of the penalty box. The keeper parried the effort and Chelsea scrambled the ball to safety.
Sanchez did put the ball into the net in the 63rd minute but the goal was disallowed for offside after Courtois dived right to save from Rashford. Referee Michael Oliver’s decision was confirmed by the video referee.
The more United pressed, the more the danger of Chelsea hitting them the break and it took a brave save from De Gea to foil Alonso after a selfless assist from Kante.
United brought on Antony Martial and Lukaku in place of Lingard and Rashford as they raised the tempo still further and Courtois knew little about a thunderbolt from Nemanja Matic which ricocheted off his fists for a corner.
But, though Mourinho’s men kept working, it was Chelsea who worked the harder and with more cohesion and thus deserved to celebrate at the final whistle.
Chelsea: Courtois – Azpilicueta, Cahill, Rüdiger – Moses, Fàbregas, Kanté, Bakayoko, Alonso – Hazard (Willian 90), Giroud (Morata 89).
Manchester Utd: De Gea – Valencia, Smalling, Jones (Mata 86), Young – Herrera, Matic, Pogba – Lingard (Martial 74), Rashford (Lukaku 74), Sánchez.
Referee: M Oliver.
** Celtic won the Scottish treble for a record second season in succession by defeating Motherwell 2-0 in the SFA Cup Final.