Two teams, one last shot at glory.
Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Saturday in the 137th FA Cup final, with both looking for silverware at the end of a season of mixed success.
But who will get their hands on the famous old trophy and why?
Ex-Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit and former United defender Phil Neville will join Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer for BBC Sport’s live coverage from Wembley.
Here, Gullit and Neville discuss why Chelsea will make life difficult for United, why Jose Mourinho has the edge over Antonio Conte and which player might make the difference.
Chelsea have lacked a presence up front all season but Gullit does not think that will be a problem on Saturday, as long as they keep things tight at the back.
“When Chelsea have been successful in the past few years, they have always had great strikers,” Gullit said. “At the moment they don’t have one.
“But the main thing for them is defending well because, if you leave the initiative with United, then we know they have problems.
“Look at the last few games that United have played, against teams who are fighting relegation, and they have struggled. They prefer it against teams who are open, and they don’t like it when you sit back and wait for your chance.
“If Chelsea wait, their chance will come, and I think that way of playing on the break suits the players that Conte has got anyway, especially up front with quick players like Eden Hazard and Willian.”
Midfield is the key area for United
United’s best performances in recent weeks have come in their wins against Manchester City and Tottenham – teams who attacked them – and Neville feels Gullit is right to advise Chelsea to be cautious.
“I think the way United have had success against the big teams this season is because the bigger teams have gone forward, committed men forward and left gaps,” he said.
“Paul Pogba has actually enjoyed playing in those matches more because he gets more opportunities to play, and more space.
I think the midfield area is probably the key for them against Chelsea. For United to win the game, their three in midfield – Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera – are going to have to be on top of their game individually.
“Of course, Chelsea will be doing everything they can to stop that from happening, but I am confident United will come out on top.
“Chelsea’s performances recently have not been great and you cannot go into a cup final and just turn on your best form.
|Premier League – top six head-to-head table|
|1, Manchester City||10||8||0||2||27||11||24|
|2. Manchester United||10||6||1||3||14||11||19|
“They have got some great individuals but I see United as a happier unit at this moment in time, and they have also played outstandingly well against all the big Premier League teams this season – they have beaten the rest of the top six at least once.
“When you are going into a big game like this one, that really helps you.”
“United were very positive with their reaction in that game,” Neville recalled. “It was similar to when they recovered from a bad start to beat Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
“Both times, United started on the back foot and went behind in the first half and, both times, Mourinho worked out what was going wrong. That is a massive strength of his.
“United did not just come back to win, though, they came back to take complete control of both games in the second half.
“I thought the semi-final was probably Jose’s best moment of the season in the way he won United that game with his tactics, because he was absolutely fantastic.
“I know you can say that Pogba and Alexis Sanchez stepped up in that game, because they did, but Mourinho played a big part in it too.
“He dropped Herrera into the space that Dele Alli was occupying and I am sure he will have a similar plan to try to keep Chelsea’s Eden Hazard quiet too.”
The worry for Gullit is that Conte will not adapt his approach, even if things are not going well for the Blues.
Gullit points to Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat by Manchester City in March as an example of when Conte would not – or could not – alter his tactics to try to find a way back into the match.
“That day was crucial for me,” Gullit said. “Conte did not change anything even when Chelsea were a goal down and being played off the park.
“That was a turning point, because I thought he would at least do something in order to try to change the game – but he paid too much respect to City.
“Mourinho would not let that happen without trying something different.
“Afterwards, he will not be bothered about playing well or how the final played out. He is not bothered about starting well, either, because he just wants to win – and the best time to take control of a game is towards the end.
“Again, I think a good example is the way they beat Spurs in the semi-final. Spurs dominated early on but, from the moment United went ahead, Tottenham knew they could not score – there was no way back.”
‘The last chance to save both clubs’ seasons?’
Conte won the Premier League in his first season at Stamford Bridge but speculation over his future at the club started before his side had even started their defence of their title.
The Blues finished fifth, without spending a single day at the top of the table, and will play in the Europa League next season.
“There have been rumours all the time that Conte is going to leave,” said Gullit, who won the FA Cup as Chelsea’s player-manager in 1997. “That has not helped them very much and it has been a very disappointing season for them.
“I don’t think that will affect what happens on Saturday, though. I think Conte wants to leave, but he still wants to win the FA Cup to have that on his CV.
“It is a big occasion for the Chelsea players too. The FA Cup would only be a consolation prize for missing out on next season’s Champions League, but they still need to win it – all big teams need trophies.
“The final might not be the prettiest of games because it will be very tactical and it is about pride. This is the last chance to save Chelsea’s season, but it is also United’s last chance too.
“These are two coaches who both want trophies, and they are both very confident because they both think they are the best.”
‘Jose wants United to have winning mentality’
This season, the former Chelsea manager has steered his side back into the top four after a two-year absence but they finished a distant second to neighbours Manchester City and suffered a shock Champions League exit to Sevilla in the last 16.
“A club like United has got to win trophies,” Neville, a two-time FA Cup winner with United in 1996 and 1999, added.
“Jose measures success by what he wins and I think that, if United get some silverware, it makes it a successful season for them.
“Whatever happens on Saturday, I think they have improved – their points total in the league compared to last year shows the progress they have made.
“But Jose wants his players to have a winning mentality and that comes with walking up the steps at Wembley on Saturday and lifting the FA Cup.
“That mindset comes from winning trophies, and from doing it consistently. Jose has managed that throughout his career, and he wants his players to do the same too.”
‘Lukaku fitness is crucial’ – why he can make the difference
The United manager did not hold back from criticising his players during a disappointing end to their Premier League campaign that saw them beaten by West Brom and Brighton and held by a struggling West Ham.
But Neville does not think those comments will spoil the mood in the camp in the build-up to Wembley.
“I looked at what Jose has said in the past few weeks and it was not aimed at the players who will be playing in the FA Cup final,” he said.
“That is the important thing, because it means they will not be affected.
“The team that played against Spurs in the semi-final is the one I think he will start with on Saturday because it is Jose’s favourite and strongest team.
“Of course, Romelu Lukaku’s fitness is the big issue there. He has had a fantastic season and they’ve missed his power and his quality in front of goal while he has been out.
“I would have liked to have seen him play some minutes before the final, because it is difficult to come into a game like that when you have not played for three or four weeks.
“That will be a challenge for him but he is so important because of the way that Jose likes to play. He loves the counter-attack and he likes a strong striker up there.
“Lukaku is that player. He has already delivered once against Chelsea this season and on Saturday he could make the crucial difference again.”
Welcome to the last predicted line-up of the season, folks! In a season many would describe as “tragic”, there remains the possibility of winning a shiny and prestigious trophy!
For the season, the score stands at “1-1” between Chelsea and Manchester United as both teams won their home matches by the slimmest of margins. We once considered Wembley our second home, and may yet call it our temporary home for a while in the near future, so let’s hope it treats us better than the non-London side.
Having spent the last week rotating his lineups, much to everyone’s chagrin, and collecting terrible results, much to everyone’s displeasure, we safely assume that Antonio’s going to go with his best, fullest-strength lineup. Or at least what he thinks is his best option, which is probably a three-man midfield like against Liverpool. Unless we’re ready to believe that he’s sabotaging his own chances of winning his first ever knockout competition trophy. So, let’s do this!
Despite goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero having started all the previous FA Cup games, I’ve got a hunch that Conte will nevertheless start with Thibaut Courtois — it’s a similar pattern to what we saw in the League Cup, where Courtois started both legs of the semifinal. In defense, the only logical decision would be to choose the trio that won 4 games on the trot while conceding a mere 2 goals: Antonio Rüdiger, Gary Cahill and César Azpilicueta.
Coming to our wing-backs, since Emerson is set to miss tomorrow’s game due to injury, there isn’t really a lot of choice in this department and thus Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso are the obvious choices here (though the Brazilian would most likely not start anyway). In midfield, I believe Conte will have to choose the three of N’Golo Kanté, Cesc Fábregas and Tiémoué Bakayoko, as we’ve once again got no real alternatives here due to Danny Drinkwater being M.I.A. and Pedro’s continuous poor form.
Last but not least, we’ve got the attack. Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard just have to start as the front 2 and I say this without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that Conte will do the same. Given that neither of them played particularly well against Newcastle (that’s an understatement that applies to just about every Chelsea player) but if anyone is going to hurt that United team then it’ll be one of those two. As Hazard goes, so do Chelsea, so now here is his chance to lead us to the trophy.
Courtois | Rüdiger, Cahill, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Kanté, Bakayoko, Fàbregas, Moses | Giroud, Hazard
The WAGNH community’s preferred line-up mirrors the predicted one as the 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 (53%) was clearly preferred to the 3-4-3 (30%) and the starting eleven is the exact same. It’s important to note that, due to the community also favouring a 3 man midfield, Willian (62%) is dropped for Bakayoko despite having received more votes than the Frenchman. Otherwise, all the picked players were more or less clear-cut choices percentage-wise.
Courtois (88%) | Rüdiger (91%), Cahill (65%), Azpilicueta (99%) | Alonso (86%), Fàbregas (73%), Kanté (99%), Bakayoko (54%), Moses (80%) | Hazard (97%), Giroud (80%)
What happens if the game is a draw?
The days of multiple replays in the final are long gone. If the match finishes as a draw after 90 minutes, there will be 30 minutes of regular extra-time followed by penalties if the scores still level.
Is there a place in Europe at stake?
Winning the FA Cup does guarantee a place in the Europa League group stages, but rules state if the winner already has a place in European competition via league position then the seventh placed team in the Premier League will qualify instead.
With Manchester United and Chelsea both already guaranteed European football, seventh-placed Burnley are now guaranteed a place in next season’s Europa League.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could play in the FA Cup for the first time this season when Chelsea play Manchester United in Saturday’s final.
Willy Caballero has featured in the competition this term, but did not convince when deputising when Courtois missed the Premier League draw with Huddersfield with a back injury.
Full-back Emerson Palmieri (undisclosed) has joined defenders David Luiz (knee) and Ethan Ampadu (ankle) in being ruled out injured.
Provisional squad: Courtois, Caballero, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Kante, Barkley, Morata, Hazard, Pedro, Bakayoko, Moses, Giroud, Zappacosta, Willian, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Eduardo.
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku needs a late fitness test ahead of the FA Cup final against Chelsea.
The Belgium international faces a race against time to recover from an ankle injury in order to line up against his former club.
Winger Anthony Martial is fit after shaking off a knee problem.
Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Valencia, Darmian, Shaw, Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Bailly, Matic, Pogba, McTominay, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Sanchez, Rashford, Lukaku.
What are they saying?
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte admits his future at the club will become clearer after the FA Cup final.
“It is very difficult to comment on speculation because there has been speculation around me from the start of the season, after the first game against Burnley.
“This speculation is not important to me because my focus is only to do my work in the best possible way with my players. I am doing this from the start until the end.
“There are only two weeks and this season will finish, and you will know if there is a different situation or if you see me again next season.
“In this decision there are always two parties to take the decision, not only one side. I like to work with my players to build something important but in our job the final result is very important.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho remains uncertain on whether striker Romelu Lukaku will be fit to take part in the Wembley showpiece.
Lukaku picked up a knock after colliding with Arsenal defender Konstantinos Mavropanos.
“I don’t think it’s something, or I hope it’s not, that in this moment keeps him immediately out of a game that is in a few weeks’ time.
“But I don’t know. I never, when I finish a game and a player is injured, immediately go for good or bad news. I wait a bit more.
“I don’t know if he is going to be out, or if he’s not okay. He wants to play all the time. He is never tired and, when he has small things, he doesn’t care. He still wants to play.”
- Manchester United 8/5
What is our prediction?
Speculation over Antonio Conte’s future – and Chelsea’s recent performances – will help Manchester United, whose manager Jose Mourinho has an impressive cup final record.
Prediction: Manchester United 2 Chelsea 0