Eden Hazard marked a milestone appearance with the only goal of the game, scored from a penalty he had won in the first half, but while our Belgian maestro will make the headlines, much credit must also go to the Blues' defending on a hot May day.
A combination of the tactical plan and Manchester United pressure, in the second half, meant there was a job to be done by Thibaut Courtois and the men in front of him, but it was a job done well. We rarely looked like conceding and as in the two league games between these sides this season, a one-goal margin separated us.
So an eighth FA Cup is ours, moving us level in that cup count with Tottenham and clear of Liverpool and Aston Villa. The club has also completed a unique treble of FA Cup, Women’s FA Cup and FA Youth Cup in one season.
The Chelsea line-up selected by Antonio Conte today reverted to the one from a couple of weekends ago, the team that started the win at home to Liverpool, our previous victory.
That meant Hazard was playing his 300th Chelsea game, alongside Olivier Giroud at the front of the attack. Thibaut Courtois started his first FA Cup match of the season and Gary Cahill, fresh from his England recall was in the centre of defence. Andreas Christensen was out having hurt his back in training yesterday.
Man United’s big injury doubt, Romelu Lukaku, was involved but was on the bench so Marcus Rashford started.
Having successfully negotiated the early stages of today’s final without the calamity of the goal conceded soon after kick-off against Arsenal last year, it was the Blues who forced the first save of the game, David De Gea repelling a fierce near-post drive with his leg. That was from Hazard who had attacked at pace.
Nine minutes had gone at that stage and five minutes later there was a shout for a foul in the Man United area by Nemanja Matic, who had hands on Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Giroud’s first-time lay-offs were showing promise, and when asked to defend, Cahill made an important tackle on Alexis Sanchez who was picking up pace.
It had been a tight game so far, the Blues prepared to stand off when Man U had the ball in their own half, but on 20 minutes there was suddenly acres of space for Hazard and he made the Red Devils pay. We had won the ball at the back and moved it quickly to Cesc Fabregas who did what he does best. The Spaniard hit a precision long pass that Hazard was able to control beyond his marker Phil Jones and sprint for goal.
He looked certain to score when brought crashing to the Wembley turf by the chasing Jones. Certain penalty, no need for the VAR which was in operation today, and by the Chelsea players' subsequent protests too, a certain red card, but referee Michael Oliver had shown yellow having judged it a genuine attempt to play the ball according to the 2016 rule change.
The further punishment was the only goal of the game, Hazard sending David De Gea the wrong way as he planted the ball low into the right-hand corner.
Man United’s response for the rest of the half was for a long time limited to a Paul Pogba shot just past the post when Courtois appeared to have it covered.
Ten minutes before half-time, Bakayoko, who was making his presence felt in this game, won a free-kick 30 yards out which unfortunately Fabregas could not lift over the wall. Hazard was brought down further out but we worked that one into a corner, which De Gea helped on its way to the other side of the pitch under pressure from Toni Rudiger.
Chelsea’s defending was looking strong, but when Ashley Young did clear our centre-backs with a ball to the far post just before half-time, Jones head wide. There was still time for a rare United counter-attack, we had not allowed the space for many of those, but man-of-the-match Rudiger, to the loud appreciation of the Chelsea fans at that end of the stadium, crunched the ball away from Rashford and the half-time whistle blew moments later. So far so good.
Man United started the second period on the front foot. Courtois punched out a dangerous-looking Rashford free-kick and got good distance on it. N’Golo Kante did superbly to nip in front of Jesse Lingard when the United youngster was cutting a path through. Then when Fabregas was caught in possession on the edge of our box, Courtois pulled off a sharp block. Our keeper was busier in the first 10 minutes of this half than he had been in the first 45.
Sanchez had the ball in the net on 63 minutes but from an offside position. That one was referred to VAR, which confirmed the linesman’s call.
The game continued to be played largely in our half, but on a couple of occasions we broke in numbers but did not play the right ball at the right time. In the 70th minute it genuinely looked as if we were about to go 2-0 up when Kante cut through and Marcos Alonso shot from close range, but he was thwarted by a fine save from his compatriot De Gea.
There was a look at a handball by Young in the aftermath but nothing was doing, and then it was Courtois’ turn to excel when he saved from Rashford.
The game entered the final quarter-of-an-hour. Courtois pushed away a swerving shot by Matic, at the end the Serbian had fired one in against Spurs for the Blues in last year’s semi-final. Pogba headed a corner wide and when Courtois made a commanding catch to claim a corner in added time, we were there. The ‘Wilkins Final’ had gone the way of Ray’s first club.
Chelsea (3-5-2): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses, Fabregas, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso; Giroud (Morata 89), Hazard (Willian 90).
Unused subs: Caballero, Chalobah Zappacosta, Barkley, Pedro.
Scorer Hazard 22 pen
Booked Courtois 90
Man United (4-3-3): De Gea; Valencia (c), Smalling, Jones (Mata 87), Young, Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Lingard (Martial 73), Rashford (Lukaku 73), Sanchez.
Unused subs Romero, Bailly, Darmian, McTominay.
Booked Jones 21, Valencia 58.
Referee Michael Oliver