It should be a classic FA Cup final but the build-up to the Wembley extravaganza has been surprisingly subdued.
It is testimony to Manchester City’s dominance this season that teams who finished second and fifth in the Premier League have been castigated for their poor campaigns and as a consequence, the expectations for Saturday’s game have been low.
Certainly both Manchester United and Chelsea have been poor in comparison to City this term but there is still much to get excited about for the end-of-season showpiece, even if it does come in between the culmination of the Premier League season and the Champions League final, not to mention the World Cup.
It will be a meeting of the two most successful English teams of the last 15 years. In that time Chelsea have won five Premier League titles and four FA Cups while United have lifted the league crown on five occasions and the FA Cup twice.
United are aiming to match Arsenal’s 13 FA Cup successes while Chelsea currently have seven to their name and it seems certain that this year’s FA Cup final will be very tight.
Despite Antonio Conte’s protestations it seems likely that Saturday’s match will be his last as Chelsea boss and the Italian will be keen to go out in style.
After winning the Premier League title in his first season at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent much of this term bemoaning a lack of funds and being generally glum.
His players appear to have grown tired of their manager, not exactly a new phenomenon among recent Chelsea squads, and the failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League could seal his fate.
However, with the Paris St-Germain vacancy being taken by Thomas Tuchel there do not appear to be many openings for the former Italy manager although a possible job swap with current Napoli head coach Maurizio Sarri has been mooted.
Since the turn of the year Chelsea have only won seven of their 17 Premier League matches and they ended the campaign with a whimper, being held to a draw by Huddersfield Town before slumping to a timid 3-0 defeat at mid-table Newcastle United.
Even Conte admitted after the defeat on Tyneside that his side had little chance of winning the FA Cup final and he appears to be a shadow of the man who captivated and entertained English crowds with his antics and passion last season.
Even Conte’s supposed feud with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho appears to have cooled.
The two men have been keen to play down their dislike of each other recently after it hit a nadir when Conte described Chelsea’s 2015/16 campaign as the ‘Mourinho season’ when the Blues imploded and the Portuguese manager was sacked.
Mourinho has been decried for making United boring to watch and it is true that they do not concede many goals – only nine at Old Trafford in 19 top-flight games and 19 on the road. They can be backed at 8/5 to keep a clean sheet on Saturday.
Only Manchester City had a better defensive record – although they managed to combine it with a scintillating attack that scored 38 more goals than Mourinho’s side.
Two of the last four FA Cup finals have gone into extra time and it will be no surprise if this weekend’s game does as well with the chances of a penalty being decisive surely a possibility in a tight game.
They are two evenly-matched sides with an Alvaro Morata goal deciding the league game at Stamford Bridge in November and United coming from behind to defeat the Blues 2-1 at Old Trafford three months ago.
Mourinho has helped Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and United to 14 major cup finals during his career and only twice has he failed to lift the trophy at the end of the match.
Last season he led United to glory in both the League Cup and the Europa League and success in the FA Cup this term may silence some of his Old Trafford doubters.
Conte has had a slight edge over Mourinho since arriving in England, winning three of their five competitive encounters.
However, United can grind out results even when they are not playing well and they only conceded two goals in their last five league matches, picking up 10 points despite only finding the net six times themselves.
Alexis Sanchez could be the pivotal figure in the encounter. The Chile international scored in both the semi-finals and the final as Arsenal won the 2015 and 2017 FA Cups and he was also on target as Manchester United beat Tottenham in last month’s semi-final.
He has netted eight times at Wembley for club and country and has shown he has the ability to come good on the big occasion.
United trio Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata have all played for Chelsea in the past and will be keen to get one over their former team.
It is unclear whether Lukaku will start the match because of injury but if he does play he will be a threat to a Chelsea defence that has looked surprisingly shaky at times this season with Gary Cahill’s form in particular deserting him.
But it would perhaps be fitting for Mata to play a key role in the final. The Spaniard currently has the number eight shirt which was worn with distinction for both United and Chelsea by Ray Wilkins who died last month at the age of 61.
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