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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Eden Hazard penalty separates the teams as Chelsea win FA Cup final: live reaction


  • FULL TIME: Chelsea 1 (Hazard 22' PEN) Man Utd 0
This is the kind of day by which Antonio Conte will like to remember his time at Chelsea, if indeed it is to end after two seasons and two major trophies, in the sunshine with a Cup in his hand and his old enemy Jose Mourinho wondering how easily he let a final slip away from him.

Both men have had the great advantage of managing Eden Hazard and both have seemed to disapprove at times of the mercurial Belgian and his rare unpredictable talent but on this day there was no questioning the great quality of Chelsea’s No 10. As he ran away from Phil Jones trailing the Englishman like an old rig pursuing a sail boat in a breezy bay, one wondered what he might to do England too, when Belgium meet them in Kaliningrad in the World Cup next month.
This was not a great final but you were left with the impression that Hazard remains a great player in an era when what it means to be the best has been taken to new levels by the two stars of the Spanish game. He stroked in the 22nd minute penalty that decided the game as if he were posting his neighbour’s mail, and although United got to grips with him better in the second half the damage was already done.

There were other fine performances in the Chelsea shirts, from Thibaut Courtois in particular when United burst into life in the second half. It was a good day for the likes of Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger but it was not United as they like to imagine themselves at Wembley. They had 70 minutes including stoppage time to reel in Chelsea and they failed miserably, ending the game as they began it, with no real flair in attack.
When the last corner sailed straight into Courtois’ gloves, Alexis Sanchez ripped off strapping and threw it to the turf in frustration. It is a season without a trophy for Mourinho, and a very dull note on which to sign off for the summer. Conte on the other hand has his second major English honour and the eighth FA Cup of Chelsea’s history, lifting them above Liverpool on seven to draw level with Tottenham Hotspur in third on the same total.
There was one player to whom the eye was drawn again and again in the first half, and unlike other occasions when Mourinho has had to deal with Hazard, this time United had no special plans and they paid for that. He warmed up by giving Jones a little dose of twisted blood out on the left side and struck a shot that De Gea had to thrust out a right foot to save.
Chelsea were well-organised and tight, and then when they got Hazard on the ball United struggled to be the same way. He was a preoccupation for them every time he got the ball and there was no-one before the break who was similarly creative for United.
Mourinho had left Romelu Lukaku on the bench, unsure of the forward’s fitness, and in his position was Marcus Rashford, engulfed by Chelsea’s defence in the first half. United never really stretched them apart from the last minute of the first hald when Paul Pogba ran free and drove up the pitch from his own half, getting the ball back from Alexis Sanchez and finding young Rashford who wafted a foot at the ball.
Mourinho consoles Pogba at the final whistle CREDIT: REUTERS
Even in midfield United looked sketchy in the first half. Ander Herrera mis-controlled passes and even Nemanja Matic got caught out of position when suddenly Tiemoue Bakayoko pushed into the United area with the ball and went down in a heap. Michael Oliver had a decision to make and called it just right – Bakayoko had tripped himself up.
The move that won Chelsea the penalty was perfect, isolating Jones with Hazard and exposing the Englishman to the impossible task of trying to stop the Belgian when he is weaving and ducking and moving forward at such a ferocious pace. Fabregas spotted the opening, curving a pass the wrong side of Jones to Hazard on the right and off he went, with those delicate changes of direction that made Jones first think he had him in the crosshairs, and then later wonder if he really did.
It got to the point when non-intervention was no longer an option for Jones and as he thrust himself along the emerald turf to try to get something on the ball it felt unlikely that once the big chap resurfaced that he would do so to good news. Hazard had seen him coming, switched the ball away from him and took the foul, turned roughly upside down and deposited in the penalty area.
Jones' slide tackle brought down Hazard for the penalty CREDIT: CAMERASPORT
Another quick and accurate call from Oliver and Hazard was sizing up the penalty. They say that he never takes his eyes off the goalkeeper in that game of poker - some people can break all the basic rules of playing the game, and only a few can put a goalkeeper as good as De Gea in one corner of the goal and the ball in the other. Hazard looked more chilled than the half-time drinks.
It was ominous for United as Mourinho’s little hurricane from his time at Chelsea nibbled away at the belief of their opposition. Jones was on a booking having made what the referees are told to interpret as a genuine attempt to play the ball, but anymore of the same from Hazard and you had to wonder if there would be another yellow card for the Englishman.
There was less Hazard on the ball for Jones to worry about in the second half, although he was always there with those deceiving runs. Largely he seemed to pick it up more in his own half and when he did get it into his feet in the United half, Herrera was the emergency service who was first on the scene.
United had much the better of it and for the early periods they had Chelsea on the ropes. Rashford and Pogba both had attempts of merit before a Sanchez goal was disallowed. Courtois had got his fingertips to a Jones header and Sanchez crashed in the loose ball but had strayed behind the line at the crucial moment. VAR was consulted and VAR confirmed that the call from Oliver was correct.
The momentum was behind United and Courtois seemed to have picked up some kind of injury colliding with Sanchez for the goal that was disallowed. United felt irresistible in those stages of the game, as if finally awakening to the occasion and the rhythm of the game. But they could not score and there was always the looming threat of Chelsea on the counter.
That almost came to pass on 70 minutes when Ngolo Kante carried the ball further and further up the field until he only need to turn it right into the stride of Marcos Alonso to seal the game. But the problem was that Alonso was obliged to strike with his right foot - an unfamiliar request for him and he barely got any velocity on the ball. Then Ashley Young appeared to have handled when the ball when Moses turned it back.
Cesc Fabregas celebrates at the final whistle CREDIT: AP
Mourinho had seen enough, taking off the homegrown pair Lingard and Rashford just moments after they created a chance for the latter which Courtois, having a fine game, managed to save. On came Lukaku and Anthony Martial to try to rescue the Cup final in vain.
Sam Wallace, chief football writer, at wembley JJ Bull, live updates -  Telegraph UK

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