Eden Hazard’s simply, stroked right-footed penalty won the FA Cup for Chelsea to end a miserable season for the former champions as they downed Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley this afternoon.
If this was to be head coach’s Antonio Conte’s last game in charge of the Blues, then he went out fighting and produced a masterful, tactical plan which reduced Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United to chasing shadows.
There was a case of parking the bus, but this was a bus that was revved up and full of high-octane fuel.
In short, Chelsea finally turned up for a game and showed, when that happens, they can win.
The opening exchanges were, as expected cagey, with neither sides wanting to make a mistake.
United were the team content to sit back and allow the west Londoners to dictate the pace and possession, while at the same time, keeping it very tight at the back. They looked threatening on the break.
Eden Hazard forced David de Gea into a smart, save by his near post as the Belgium wizard went on a May run through the United defence on the left and let fly with a low, left-footer which De Gea kicked away.
Chelsea had a claim for a penalty on 14 minutes when Tiemoure Bakayoko tumbled the ground, inside the United penalty area, after he got past Nemanja Matic. The midfielder appeared to put his hands on the back of the Frenchman, but referee Michael Oliver decided it wasn't a foul.
Sensationally, on 20 minutes, Chelsea were rewarded within a penalty after Hazard raced through, before being hacked down by Phil Jones on the six-yard box. Olivier rightly awarded a penalty but only gave a yellow card to Jones despite being ready to shoot. Was it a goal-scoring opportunity. it could not have been anything else.
However up stepped Hazard to cooly take the spot-kick and send De Gea the wrong way to tuck the ball home into the far corner of the net, to put the Blues 1-0 up.
United responded well with a spell of good possession, resulting in Paul Pogba having a 25-yard shot, that just inched wide of Thibaut Courtois’s right post on 29 minutes.
A minute before the break Jones had a great chance to equalise, but could only head wide from a deep Ashley Young cross.
There were no changes by either side at half time.
United started the stronger, forcing Chelsea into a retreat.
A Marcus Rashford free-kick on 53 minutes, saw Courtois punch the ball away as the pressure started to mount on the Chelsea rearguard.
Young then had a left-footed effort sail over Courtois’s crossbar.
He again thwarted Rashford who put in a piledriver on 57 minutes.
Hazard was Chelsea’s only relief and he forced a foul by Antonio Valencia, which resulted in the United midfielder getting a yellow card.
Alexis Sanchez thought he had an equalised on 63 minutes, when he poked the ball home at Courtois’s left post. But the Chile striker was just offside as Courtois produced a fabulous save.
Marcos Alonso had a brilliant chance to double the lead on 70 minutes when N’Golo Kante raced clear. he passed to Alonso who smashed the ball goal-wards, but De Gea was equal to it with the ball floating clear. Young handled the ball and should have had a penalty. But Oliver missed it.
Un item went straight up the other end and Courtois produced a save to block Rashfords effort.
That was his last action, as he was replaced by Romelu Lukaku, while, Jesse Lingard made was for Anthony Martial.
Courtois was once again in the right place, this time with 10 minutes on the clock, as he punched away a thunderous left-footer by Matic.
A free header, with eight minutes left, by an unchallenged Pogba from close range, inched wide of Courtois’s goal, as united laid siege on Chelsea’s defence in pursuit of an equaliser.
Jose Mourinho made his final substitution, bringing on Juan mata for Jones.
Antonio Conte made his first change on 89 minutes, Alvaro Morata on for Olivier Giroud.
Willian entered the fray seconds later for Hazard as Conte attempted to run down the clock.
And so it proved.
A brilliant first half performance and a stunning rearguard second-half performance.
That wins cups, but will it win Conte a reprieve at SW6?
Teams: Chelsea: Courtois, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, Kante, hazard, bakayoko, Moses, Giroud, Cahill, Azpilicueta
Subs: Caballero, Barkley, MNorata,Pedro, Zappacosta, Willian, Chalobah
Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Pogba, Sanchez, Smalling, Lingard, Young, Rashford, Herrera, Valencia, Matic
Subs: Romero, Bailly, Mata, Lukaku, Martial, Darmian, McTominay
Referee: Michael Oliver