FA Cup Final: Three key battles that could decide the game
Written by: Shivam Tiwari
The Red Devils were knocked out from the competition by the same team last term.
Antonio Conte's Chelsea FC will host Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in the 137th FA Cup final at Wembley. It has been a torrid season for both Chelsea and Manchester United, especially for the former team. Chelsea, who started the league as defending champions, were left biting the dust after Christmas as they lost four and drew two earlier this year. It resulted in the Blues slipping to the fifth position, from where it was virtually impossible to recover from.
In Champions League too, after finishing second in the group stage behind eventual semi-finalists AS Roma, Spanish arch-nemesis Barcelona showed them the exit door in the Round of 16. Thus, even after a great display against Messi and co, Chelsea were left rueing about the chances they failed to take. Pressure is mounting up for Conte and with each passing day as the ones in the holders' crew would be seeking glory in some way for the North London club.
Manchester United have improved their performance at least statistically as Jose Mourinho has led this team to their best league finish post the Sir Alex's retirement. Despite this, there have been questions about the attacking intents of this United side as they prefer sitting back and defending more than playing the Manchester United's characteristic attacking brand of football.
FA Cup Final 2018: Chelsea vs Manchester United
Manchester United, like their FA Cup final opponents, exited the Champions League in the Round of 16 stage against Sevilla. The loss was followed by many criticisms, where Jose Mourinho was cited as the wrong person to lead them. The result was said to be due to United's 'boring' football - a statement that has been doing around at Stamford Bridge as well.
With so many similarities between them, Chelsea and United are set to battle it out at the Wembley to salvage their season and for it, we take a look at three battles that will be crucial and will decide the fate of the game.
N'Golo Kante vs Paul Pogba
After winning Premier League player of the year awards for two consecutive seasons, Kante finally looks to have run out of gas. The former Leicester City player has contributed relatively lesser in defence and has, at times, looked interested in helping the team more upfront. The result is him giving more key passes and creating more chances but at the cost of tackles won and interceptions made. A sporadic downgrade in defensive numbers for the French international.
Kante's national teammate Pogba had a roller coaster ride this season. In some games, Pogba has been the best and the most influential player on the field for United and was found clueless on many occasions leading to his inconsistency, cutting out a sorry figure. One aspect of the story although that goes Pogba's way is that he has led from the front in the ties that mattered the most for United - Manchester derby win being the most recent.
And for United to have any chance of winning the final against Chelsea, they would want their French ace to outclass Chelsea's talismanic midfielder.
Eden Hazard vs Antonio Valencia
Eden Hazard has rumoured to be unhappy with the style of Antonio Conte's football - a style that wants him to contribute more defensively and sit back. Moreover, the Belgian international seems to be frustrated with the decrease in his offensive outputs this season - a big reason why Chelsea has failed to threaten opposition defence at times.
The flanks are crucial for The Red Devils and The Blues
The onus of stopping the Belgium international is on the Ecuadorian right-back Antonio Valencia. Valencia, by his eye-catching performances, has left no stones unturned to remove the tag of a 'makeshift defender' of off him. Valencia, once seen as someone who could replace Ronaldo at Old Trafford, has made the right-back position his own.
And on Saturday, the Ecuadorian international will have another litmus test to pass on against Eden Hazard.
Gary Cahill vs Romelu Lukaku
After Gareth Southgate announced England's provisional squad for the World Cup, many eyebrows were raised as Gary Cahill was a part of the squad. Cahill's career has been going downwards for the past few seasons. And he would consider himself very fortunate to have been into England's World Cup squad. With so much criticisms around, Gary would want to shut the mouths of the critics by having a man of the match performance against the Manchester based team.
They will be the vital cogs for their teams.
But for that, Gary will have tame Romelu Lukaku at Wembley. Lukaku, who could have been a teammate of Chelsea Defender, now faces him as an opponent in the FA Cup final.
Lukaku has received his fair share of criticisms despite starting the season on a roll. But to the credit of the Belgian international, he rose above all his critics and has performed well in the big games. And on Saturday, Mourinho will wish him to be on top of his game when he goes up against Chelsea.
Published: Fri May 18, 2018 10:15 PM IST