We’re going to Wembley! Wait, weren’t we there just today? Anyway, Antonio Conte has guided his Chelsea side to a second consecutive FA Cup final at the expense of Southampton. The rematch of last week’s Premier League game produced the same result, with Chelsea also showing that they’ve learnt their lessons. But what did we learn from this game? Let’s have a look.
#1 One Man Strike Force
After experimenting with two up front in midweek against Burnley, Antonio Conte reverted to the tried and trusted 3-4-3 formation. That meant there was no place for Alvaro Morata in the starting lineup, replaced instead by the January recruit, Olivier Giroud. Willian and Eden Hazard provided support to the Frenchman with Fabregas dictating play in the middle. N’Golo Kante was in-charge of sweeping up in front of the defence, which did not contain Andreas Christensen. Instead, it was Cahill plus Rudiger and a second start for new boy Emerson Palmieri in place of the suspended Alonso. It was a strong lineup on paper, and arguably the strongest lineup Conte could have put out.
#2 Lionel Messi, Eat Your Heart Out
It was a goal as beautiful as the man who scored it. Eden Hazard was having one of those days when he decides to make every opponent on the field look like they have two left feet. In one of those moments, he superbly controlled a difficult ball and laid if off for Giroud in the Saints’ box. The tall, hunk of a man side-stepped not one, not two, but three Southampton defenders on his way to poking the ball into the net. It didn’t matter that he was tripped, he just stayed on his feet and powered through. A bit like a ballerina hopped up on Red Bull and vodka. It was an effort we’ve seen Messi score on a regular basis, leaving mouths agape. But can he do it on a warm Sunday evening in London?
#3 Spanish Connection
The telepathy between Azpilicueta and Morata went into hibernation when the striker ran into a rough patch, collecting yellow cards instead of goals. Then he got injured. But he is back now, and so is the connection. Merely seconds after coming on as a substitute, Alvaro Morata nodded in a deep cross from Cesar Azpilicueta, like the good old days at the start of the season. You could see it coming a mile away. Antonio Conte could see it coming as he prepared himself to head it home on the touchline. A downward header from Morata (and Conte) made it 2-0 to Chelsea and it was game over. There was still time for Willian to throw a strop as he was substituted. The Brazilian hit the bar once but did not really have an outstanding game.
#4 Palmieri Provides Pace (And More)
Not since the days of Ashley Cole have Chelsea had a fullback capable of manning the entire flank all by himself. Now, Emerson might not be at Cole’s level yet, but the signs are good. He has pace – a lot of it – which he uses to good effect in an attacking sense, and not just to cover for his mistakes. I think we can all agree, we’d like to see more of him, please.
After a relatively miserable season up to this point, things are looking up for Chelsea. Not only do we have an FA Cup final to look forward to against Manchester United, we are now just five points behind Spurs. The Harry Kane Team have shown a propensity to crumble upon the application of pressure, and if they lose another game it might all go downhill for Spurs. For our part, we just need to make sure we are in a position to take advantage when it does.
Next up, Chelsea visit struggling Swansea in the league. Another three points in the bag will do nicely.