Chelsea vs. Manchester United: FA Cup offers chance to end mixed season on high
It has been a mixed season for both Chelsea and Manchester United but the FA Cup offers both the chance to end on a high note.
Chelsea flopped in their title defence and will play Europa League football next season -- probably without Antonio Conte -- while Manchester United failed to give Manchester City a decent run for their money.
With Conte seemingly set for his last game and some Manchester United fans agitated with Jose Mourinho's style of play, the FA Cup final at least gives a chance to add silverware to a season that has had its fair share of ups and downs.
Mark Worrall (Chelsea) and Scott Patterson (Manchester United) look ahead to the Wembley showdown.
Who needs this trophy more?
Mark Worrall: Without any shadow of doubt, Chelsea. Winning the FA Cup would give a huge lift to the supporters after what has been a thoroughly depressing season. Chelsea's hopes of improving on the Premier League title winning campaign of 2016-17 were dashed pretty much from the outset as once-revered manager Antonio Conte found himself dragged into a series of battles over transfers, with some of his players and indeed with Mourinho, all of which have proved detrimental to the general well-being of the club.
Scott Patterson: I'd say United. Chances are Antonio Conte won't be at the club next season regardless, so they'll have a fresh start with a new manager. For Jose Mourinho, he needs to add silverware to justify the claim that United are making progress with him.
Aside from adding another winners' medal to their collection, the managers would be lying if they claim they would take no personal satisfaction from getting one over on the other. Their spat in January coincided with Chelsea's implosion, with them falling from second in the league to sixth, so Conte may be keener to prove that Mourinho didn't rattle him too much.
Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku: Who did you want last summer, and who do you want now?
MW: Lukaku was definitely ahead of Morata on last summer's transfer wish list for most fans. Both strikers started the season brightly but Lukaku stayed the course better than Morata with his physicality. His style of play is clearly more suited to the rigours of the English game.
If Conte's recent team selections are anything to go by, it's unlikely Morata will start the final whereas if Lukaku was a Chelsea player he almost certainly would. That said, the January acquisition of Olivier Giroud has proved shrewd. The France international loves Wembley, having won all 10 of the club games he has played there and he will almost certainly be in Conte's starting XI. Form, fitness and an appetite for the grand occasion sees Giroud out in front of Morata and Lukaku right now.
SP: I wasn't mad on the idea of either of them, but was happier with Lukaku than Morata. He had proven himself in the Premier League already and is the sort of striker Mourinho often brings in to his teams. Morata has never scored more than 15 league goals in a season, while Lukaku does that every year in the Premier League, so there wasn't much contest.
Following their comparative performances this season, I can't imagine that anyone would rather have Morata than Lukaku now. The former has scored 15 goals in 47 games, while Lukaku has 27 in 50.
I've seen some people excuse Morata's average season by pointing to his mystery injury but I'm not sure that explains away the number of one-on-ones he's bottled. Lukaku is by no means the perfect striker, but he's been much better than the alternative.
After a tough season, what needs to change next term?
MW: Where to start? Chelsea are riddled with problems at the moment. The most obvious one is Conte. The Italian is clearly unhappy and has been for a long time and his "suffering" has led to the suffering of everyone around him. A new manager is required with fresh ideas to breathe life back into the dressing room. In tandem with the manager's position, the back office needs sorting out. Although much-maligned by Blues fans, departure of yet-to-be-replaced technical director Michael Emenalo has left a void in respect of sounding out and sorting transfers and endeavouring to better harness the assets of the perennially successful academy.
The squad also needs an overhaul. Thibaut Courtois should be granted a move to Spain as he wishes and be replaced with a world-class goalkeeper who isn't suspect when it comes to being nut-megged. Gary Cahill has served the club well, but at 32 his time is done. Ruben Loftus-Cheek needs to be integrated into the first team and the club need to identify the next real captain, leader, legend figure missing since John Terry left.
SP: Mourinho needs to get more out of his best players. While the likes of Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Nemanja Matic have had good campaigns, the hardest workers, we need to see better performances from Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. That's not to say their underwhelming seasons are entirely Mourinho's fault, but it's his job to get them playing well and his approach hasn't worked this season.
What does the FA Cup mean to you?
MW: The FA Cup is a fantastic competition. You can't beat that moment when the captain of your team hoists the cup above his head. Being of a certain vintage, as a kid I was drawn to Chelsea by the kings of the King's Road side that won the trophy in 1970. Many barren years followed, but there was always hope. There always is when it comes to the cup, even in the modern age when sadly it has fallen down the list of many clubs' and managers' priorities.
No-one saw Wigan beating Manchester City in the competition earlier this season or indeed in the 2013 final. In 2015 Premier League leaders Chelsea got beaten 4-2 at home by Bradford City then of League One in the fourth round having been 2-0 up -- a result which sums up the magic of the cup for those who believe there is none left. It was chastening, but funny. No other trophy in football has the ability to spring surprises like the FA Cup -- hopefully there will be another one on Saturday, and a favourable one for the Blues.
SP: If you're not competing for the league title or Champions League, which United haven't, the FA Cup is the best trophy on offer. A victory for United on Saturday would mean they join Arsenal as the club to have won it the most times. It's an important trophy and one no fan should be turning their nose up at. But it is still largely a consolation prize for both teams after their failure to compete for the two major honours this season.
MW: Not for the first time in recent meetings, it seems likely that Eden Hazard will be a focal point of attention. Stop Hazard and you stop Chelsea seems to be Mourinho's mantra since he became United boss and there's every chance it will be more of the same at Wembley.
There is no doubt that on his day Hazard can wreak havoc ghosting in from the left flank and the question is who will Mourinho deploy to try and shackle the Belgium international? Ander Herrera has previously taken on this man-to-man marking job and could be set to do so again. Referee Michael Oliver could well play a key part in the outcome of this key battle. If Herrera is allowed too much freedom to get at Hazard then he could school him as happened when United beat Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford in a Premier League encounter just over a year ago. On the flip side if Oliver is standing for no nonsense he could send off the Spaniard if he persistently fouls Hazard, as he did at Stamford Bridge in an FA Cup quarterfinal tie between the sides last season.
SP: Herrera vs Hazard, or whoever Mourinho puts on Hazard. Chelsea have other good players but the Belgian is a cut above, and when United have kept him quiet they've won.
MW: Because of the myriad problems Chelsea have faced this season, they will start the final as underdogs. It's a nice position. If it is to be Conte's last game as Blues boss, what better way to leave than upsetting the odds with a tactical masterclass. Chelsea 2-1 United after extra time.
SP: Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea.