Another domestic season finished in England with Chelsea lifting the prestigious FA Cup trophy at Wembley. It was a deserved victory for Antonio Conte and his players, most certainly the last under his reign, but questions will be asked of what happened to José Mourinho’s men.
The game was tame – especially compared to Germany’s equivalent which ended up 3-1 to Frankfurt over Bayern Munich – and failed to really burst into life. There were brief glimpses of an open game, but Chelsea kept their shape and organisation throughout.
Here are five things talking points from the FA Cup final:
Manchester United’s lack of urgency
It was astounding that it took Manchester United 60 minutes to wake up and play football in a Cup final, especially when they were 1-0 down. For some reason or another, a common theme has been portrayed this season by the Red Devils, and that is lethargy.
Time and time again, United have slept walked their way into a losing position to have to then wake up and salvage the situation. Sometimes they are successful, other times it backfires completely. The FA Cup final was a result of the latter unfolding before them.
The Red Devils were simply lackadaisical in their approach and the players have to take some of the responsibility, as well as their manager, for the performance shown at Wembley. Even with minutes to go, there seemed no real sense of urgency. It was a hit-and-hope job into the box with an expired set of ideas.
If Mourinho is to challenge on all fronts next season, then he simply has to resolve this timid and nonplussed approach to games. It is not a style befitting of Manchester United.
Worrying times for José Mourinho
A second placed finish in the Premier League and an FA Cup runners’ up medal doesn’t seem the end of the world for the Portuguese boss, but those two accolades don’t tell the full picture.
United ended the season 19 points off the league winners, their across-town rivals, and had limped to a very uninspiring FA Cup losing spot. It has been a dross season for fans of the club, with the majority now starting to turn against Mourinho’s tried and tested style of football.
The masses are not expecting eye-watering, glorified football week in, week out, but the current level of performance being shown is a mockery of what this great club once used to stand for.
It is not just about bringing in personnel this summer, but about the level of intensity that the Red Devils are playing at. It is not a sustainable philosophy to expect United’s players to pick up the pieces when they go 1-0 down every game; they have to play on the front foot and attempt to punish teams with their all-star attack.
Mourinho still has time on his hands, but he has to get next year right across the board, or there will be a revolt heading his way.
Chelsea must do all that they can to keep Eden Hazard
While Chelsea weren’t at their attacking best yesterday, they didn’t need to be. Conte had set the Blues up to grab a goal and sit back to defend until the final whistle. Occasionally, they would break and try to punish United on the counter-attack, usually through the wonderfully gifted Eden Hazard.
The Belgium international scored the winning goal thanks to winning a penalty after drawing Phil Jones in to make a reckless sliding challenge in the box. Hazard’s turn of speed, technical skill and intelligence to win the foul shows exactly why Chelsea would be damned if they sold him this summer.
Of course, the club are not wanting to actively sell the playmaker, but Hazard himself might find pastures new after Chelsea didn’t qualify for the Champions League next season.
With 12 goals and four assists in 34 appearances in the Premier League this season, Hazard has been one of Chelsea’s better performers. He might not have actively contributed to as many goals this year as he has previous, but the Belgian has such a mighty influence over how prolific Chelsea are moving forward.
Whether it’s offering him a new bumper contract with an immense amount of money, or delivering on signing top players as he wants, Chelsea must make it a top priority to keep Hazard at the club.
Gary Cahill deserves to be going to Russia
There has been a lot of criticism for Gary Cahill since the England World Cup squad was announced last week by Gareth Southgate.
Understandably, some fans were perplexed as to why Cahill has made the squad after enduring a mediocre season with Chelsea. However, his FA Cup final performance showed why he can still have moments of outstanding brilliance and provide England’s defence with a sense of maturity.
Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Phil Jones and John Stones are the other players in contention for Southgate’s three-man defence, which, apart from Jones, is still relatively youthful. Stones has experience at club level, but he has only recorded 24 appearances for the Three Lions compared to Cahill’s 54.
While the Chelsea centre back is unlikely to start England’s crucial games in Group A – barring injury – he could well prove to be a very useful substitute player to close matches out. For long parts of the game, Cahill was instrumental in organising Chelsea’s defence against United, and held strong when under considerable pressure.
He might not be everyone’s favourite, but Cahill’s experience, maturity and diligence could prove dividends in Russia.
Why the FA Cup still matters
England’s finest Cup competition might have taken a knock in its reputation over the last five years with teams putting out their reserves, but it does still matter to the fans.
This year, more managers have taken it seriously, with three teams from the top six in the semi finals. The final might not have been a spectacle, but it’s a positive improvement to see two English heavyweights battle it out for the trophy.
Fans of English football will suggest that the FA Cup is important, and they are right. For two teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea, who haven’t had a lot to cheer about this season, it provides a sense of occasion at a place like Wembley. A tangible moment of success at the end of their campaign.
The FA Cup will not ever be as big as the Premier League, but it’s important to see it being respected by teams from all levels of English football. We are finally seeing that once more.
Also published on Medium.