Chelsea’s quest to end the season with a trophy continues after Frank Lampard’s side booked a place in the FA Cup final for the 14th time with a deserved victory over Manchester United at Wembley.
Goals either side of the half-time break from Olivier Giroud and Mason Mount settled this semi-final and sets up a London derby final against Arsenal. It also means Chelsea will compete for the famous old trophy in this 50th anniversary year since our first triumph in the competition back in 1970.
Lampard will feel his side were good value for their victory having controlled the game and limited United to only a few significant opportunities by utilising a back three for the first time since the restart, while creating enough themselves and capitalising on mistakes from David de Gea.
Giroud poked us in front right at the end of a first half extended following lengthy treatment needed for Eric Bailly, who departed with a head injury, before Mount doubled the cushion within a minute of the restart with a swerving strike that deceived De Gea.
An own goal from Harry Maguire made it 3-0 with 15 minutes remaining and, despite Bruno Fernandes converting a late consolation from the spot, it was the Blues who booked a return to Wembley in a fortnight for the FA Cup final against Arsenal.
Matching up, settling down
United reverted to the same system that worked well for them in claiming three points at Stamford Bridge back in February, which meant both sides matched up with similar shapes featuring three-man defences.
There were nuances further forward, with Chelsea’s wing-backs more advanced and Fernandes spearheading the attack for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, and differences in approach as the Blues looked to get on the ball early on and work some openings.
It was perhaps telling that the game’s two clear chances in the opening quarter fell to the Chelsea wing-backs, Reece James forcing a careful punch clear by De Gea after taking aim from fully 30 yards out, before Marcos Alonso headed over at the back post after escaping the attentions of Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Unsettling the play
When United played out from the goalkeeper, our tactic to press them high and unsettle their build-up was paying dividends as we frequently retrieved possession. However, the killer task of punishing their profligate play was just lacking a precise pass or decisive finish.
Maguire thwarted his England international team-mate Mount with a brave block just before the first drinks break, following which Willy Caballero was forced to push Fernandes’s free-kick over the crossbar in what was United’s first effort on target of the contest.
From the following corner, also their first of the afternoon, it was Chelsea who sprung a quick break on the counter-attack. Willian led the charge down the left flank but the Brazilian’s cross towards Giroud was overhit and the chance went begging.
Bailly blow forces United rejig
There was frustration for centre-backs on opposite teams as the interval approached. Kurt Zouma did well to get his head on a teasing left-sided delivery from Mount but his stooping effort lacked the direction required to trouble De Gea, before Bailly was forced off with a head injury that needed a significant amount of treatment from United’s medical team.
Anthony Martial replaced Bailly as United went back to a more familiar 4-2-3-1, however the task got even tougher for the Red Devils deep into time added on at the end of the first half.
Awesome Oli strikes again at Wembley
Giroud’s love affair with the FA Cup, and Wembley in particular, spans the duration of his eight-year career in England and the 33-year-old was at it again in north London as he gave us the breakthrough in the 11th minute of first-half stoppage time.
It was a goal that owed much to the quality of Cesar Azpilicueta’s delivery as the skipper sent an inviting low cross into the six-yard box and Giroud provided a predatory close-range finish, stabbing the ball through De Gea with the outside of his left boot.
It was a repeat of his influential goalscoring impact in the 2018 semi-final victory against Southampton and took him to 16 in the old competition since his first FA Cup appearance in January 2013. Only Sergio Aguero has scored more in that time.
While United were out a few minutes early ahead of the second-half restart, it was the Blues who came out of the blocks quickest and managed to find a decisive second goal to double their semi-final advantage.
Mount was the architect and scorer, advancing unchallenged from midfield and driving a firm shot that swerved slightly as it skimmed along the turf but was fumbled into the bottom corner by De Gea.
It was the 21-year-old’s first FA Cup goal for Chelsea and his seventh of this breakthrough campaign at Stamford Bridge in his 49th appearance. The cushion it gave Lampard’s side felt significant.
United respond but Rudiger pressure wraps it up
Solskjaer’s side needed to respond and it wasn’t long before Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood were introduced to provide an injection of quality in the final third. Marcus Rashford fired a warning shot narrowly wide after escaping in behind but chances for United’s number 10 had been few and far between on a frustrating afternoon for their attacking unit.
Maguire had perhaps the best chance to make the final half an hour more competitive as Caballero missed the flight of a corner but the centre-back’s header flew inches wide of the unguarded goal.
Down the other end, De Gea was working to make amends with two impressive stops to deny Giroud and a well-placed header from James that was clawed away by the Spaniard. Mount was close to finding the net again following good link-up between Willian and Jorginho but fired just over the crossbar.
The win was sealed with 15 minutes remaining when Alonso added to the assists from defenders, steering a low cross into the danger zone towards Rudiger, whose pressure proved pivotal as Maguire turned the ball into his own net, leaving De Gea with no chance.
United’s goal was a case of too little, too late as they left themselves with too much to do when reducing the deficit with five minutes remaining. Callum Hudson-Odoi, not long on as a substitute, made a clumsy challenge on Martial to concede a penalty that Fernandes tucked away in a fashion not too disimilar to Jorginho's inimitable spot-kick style.
It was a disappointing blow to lose a clean sheet that a lot of work had gone towards but the goal would not spoil what was another significant day for this young Chelsea side, who could still end the campaign with a top-four finish and a trophy in these final few weeks. As the final whistle sounded, One Step Beyond rang out around an eerily empty Wembley to mark a special win in this most unprecedented of seasons.
Wembley redemption for Mount and Lampard
It was a painful afternoon last time at Wembley for Mount, Lampard and the rest of the Derby contingent as the Rams were beaten in last season’s Championship play-off final.
Over a year on, the frowns were replaced by smiles as Lampard beat United as Chelsea boss at the fourth time of asking and Mount found the back of the net on the biggest of stages. The result means they will be back in this part of the capital in a fortnight as the Reds and Blues of London do battle for silverware.
There were three changes from our midweek win over Norwich City as Caballero, James and Mount all returned to a side lining up with three at the back. Christian Pulisic was deemed only fit enough for a place on the bench after picking up a niggle in training.
Zouma, Rudiger and Azpilicueta were the trio of centre-backs selected, sandwiched in between the full-back pairing of James and Alonso.
Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho lined up in midfield, with Giroud up front supported by Willian and Mount.
Our final away game of this interrupted Premier League campaign takes us to Anfield on Wednesday evening. Kick-off against Liverpool is at 8.15pm.