Chelsea will have to wait a little longer for our first trophy under Thomas Tuchel after a narrow defeat to Leicester City in the Emirates FA Cup final.
We enjoyed the vast majority of the possession during the game, and were denied a goal by the goalkeeper, the woodwork and even VAR, but the return of Chelsea fans, who were watching Tuchel's team play for the first time, turned out to be an unhappy one as Leicester scored the winning goal with their only shot on target.
After a first half which provided little in the way of goal-mouth excitement from either team, it was Chelsea who found ourselves behind after the break, despite producing all the positive play in the first half. The goal came from nowhere, as Youri Tielemans found himself in space a long way out and unleashed a powerful effort into the top corner that Kepa Arrizabalaga could do nothing about.
There had been little sign of that Leicester threat before then and it was all Chelsea afterwards, as Mason Mount forced a fine save from Schmiechel to keep out a powerful low volley that looked destined to provide our equaliser. Ben Chilwell, coming off the bench to face his former club, went even closer, as Schmeichel tipped his header onto the post. Chilwell even had the ball in the back of the net in the 89th minute, after getting on the end of Thiago Silva’s chipped pass and a lucky rebound, only for VAR to rule out his late goal for offside by the tiniest of margins.
That meant we weren’t able to reward the Blues fans at Wembley with a trophy, but we will have another chance in the Champions League before the end of the season, and have an opportunity for immediate revenge against Leicester when we meet them again in the Premier League on Tuesday.
Thomas Tuchel made five changes from the midweek defeat to Arsenal, with Marcos Alonso among those returning to the team. The Spaniard joined Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James in an otherwise unchanged defence from the semi-final, albeit with Azpilicueta as the wing-back and James slotting into the back three.
As indicated by Tuchel in the build-up to the game, Kepa Arrizabalaga retained his place in goal. N’Golo Kante was back in midfield after recovering from the heel pain that kept him out in midweek, and partnered Jorginho.
Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech were selected to support Timo Werner in attack.
Leicester kicked off the Emirates FA Cup final, but it was Chelsea, wearing our new home kit for the first time, who showed the early signs of urgency, as Timo Werner got free down the right twice inside the opening 90 seconds. First it was from a quick Reece James throw-in, and then following good work through the middle by Mason Mount, but on both occasions there was no team-mate free in the box to get on the end of the German’s low cross, allowing the Foxes to clear.
Chelsea make the early running
That started a long early period of possession for the Blues, which had Tuchel applauding his players from the touchline, resulting in a series of corners from the right, but again we couldn’t find a Chelsea shirt in the box.
For Leicester’s part, they seemed happy to cede possession and instead look to release the pace of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho with quick balls forward, but 10 minutes in the pace of Antonio Rudiger and James, the latter moved into the back three from his usual wing-back spot, had kept their threat in check.
It took almost 15 minutes for the first shot of the game to arrive, as Rudiger attempted a low drive from distance, but he didn’t catch it cleanly and Kasper Schmeichel could watch it wide of his left-hand post.
However, Leicester responded almost immediately as Vardy met Timothy Castagne’s low cross around the penalty spot, but Thiago Silva was on hand to block the striker’s shot.
As heavy rain started to fall at Wembley, far from the usual sunny cup final weather, we were seeing the vast majority of the ball, with Jorginho going close to finding Cesar Azpilicueta in a great position in the Leicester box with a crossfield ball, and Mount had a low shot blocked after a wonderful flick that allowed him to combine with Azpilicueta.
Mount was even closer shortly afterwards, when he turned and ran at the Leicester defenders after receiving the ball to feet from Thiago Silva, but a touch on his low left-footed shot from the edge of the box took it narrowly wide of the near post. Werner then fired over from a similar position, but it was clear the Chelsea players weren’t afraid to try their luck from range when the opportunity presented itself.
Chances at a premium
Following yet another corner, this time recycled by Rudiger and Thiago Silva, Werner couldn't make enough contact on the latter’s cross and his touch took it inches away from Azpilicueta at the back post. With half-an-hour played the scores were still level, but it was the Blues enjoying all the possession and posing the biggest threat.
There was a long break in play as Leicester defender Jonny Evans was forced off with an injury, having returned at Wembley after missing their last two games, which was soon followed by the game’s first yellow card, issued to Wesley Fofana after he slid through the back of Werner.
Werner then joined him in the book as he arrived late sliding to challenge for a 50-50, after twice seeing his shot charged down when he was cleverly played in by Hakim Ziyech’s reverse pass.
Leicester finished the first half with their strongest spell of the game so far, although Caglar Soyuncu’s header wide at the near post from a set-piece was the best they could manage, which combined with another Werner effort deflected wide, meant the opening 45 minutes concluded without a shot on target for either team.
It was a similar story after the break, but the first effort on target did finally arrive in the 53rd minute and it came from a Chelsea player, as Marcos Alonso rose highest to get his head on N’Golo Kante’s floated cross from the right, but the Spaniard’s attempt lacked the power to trouble the goalkeeper.
Leicester were starting to come into the game a little more in the second half, managing to keep play in Chelsea’s half for meaningful periods for the first time, but other than a couple of dangerous looking crosses they failed to test Kepa, while at the other end we were also finding chances elusive.
However, when Leicester’s first shot on target did finally arrive, it proved unstoppable, as Youri Tielemans let fly from outside the box and sent his powerful effort right into the top corner, beyond the reach of Kepa.
Blues push back
Tuchel responded to going behind with a double swap, as Ben Chilwell came on for Alonso to face his former club and Christian Pulisic, who scored in last season’s FA Cup final, replaced Ziyech.
Chelsea had a little over 20 minutes to find an equaliser at Wembley and we started to push forward immediately, substitute Pulisic driving past two defenders on the right, before his cross was deflected behind for yet another corner.
As we attempted to increase the pressure, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi were also introduced by Tuchel in two attacking substitutions, Jorginho and Azpilicueta the players making way.
That pressure started to pay off when two ex-Leicester players combined, as Kante burst free in the box and clipped a ball towards the back post, where Chilwell leapt and headed down, only to see his effort tipped onto the post by Schmeichel’s fingertips.
In a final attempt to change our fortunes, Olivier Giroud, the hero of so many occasions at Wembley, came on for Werner to lead the Chelsea line, but despite long periods camped out in Leicester’s third of the pitch, we were still struggling to find the space in the box to create the clear chance we needed.
It had the feeling of one of those games where there would be one final chance that could decide the destination of the trophy.
It looked like it had arrived when James’ cross fell for Mount in the box and he unleashed a powerful volley with his left foot, but somehow Schmeichel denied us again at full stretch, leaving Mount with his head in his hands in disbelief.
Then there was one more chance as Chiwell got on the end of Thiago Silva’s pass over the top. It looked like the opportunity had passed as our left wing-back tried to find a team-mate, but Leicester made a mess of their clearance and the ball ricocheted back to Chilwell and into the back of the net.
However, there was late heartbreak as VAR ruled the goal out for the narrowest of offside calls, leaving us five minutes of added time to beat Schmeichel again. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, as that proved to be the last chance of the game despite our best efforts, meaning the Blues left Wembley empty handed on this occasion and without silverware to celebrate with our returning fans..
We meet Leicester City again in just three days, this time at Stamford Bridge in our penultimate Premier League fixture, at 8.15pm on Tuesday. Our league campaign then comes to an end away at Aston Villa, with kick-off at 4pm next Sunday.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Kepa; James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (c) (Hudson-Odoi 76), Kante, Jorginho (Havertz 76), Alonso (Chilwell 68); Ziyech (Pulisic 68), Werner (Giroud 82), Mount
Unused subs: Mendy, Emerson, Zouma, Gilmour
Booked: Werner 40
Leicester City (3-4-1-2): Schmeichel (c); Fofana, Evans (Albrighton 33), Soyuncu; Castagne, Ndidi, Tielemans, Thomas (Morgan 82); Perez (Choudhury 82); Iheanacho (Maddison 68), Vardy
Unused subs: Ward, Amartey, Pereira, Mendy, Praet
Scorer: Tielemans 63
Booked: Fofana 36
Referee: Michael Oliver