United get the opportunity to bring the season to an end with a trophy and regain the FA Cup that they won in 2016. A trip to Wembley against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea is a chance for Jose Mourinho to add to his trophy haul and probably end his infamous battle with the Italian on the front foot. A second place finish a good achievement but couple this with a third trophy in two seasons, then the club have some momentum heading into a big summer transfer window. These two have met twice this season and both managed to pick up a win by the single goal with the home side coming out on top, but who will come out on top at Wembley?
United probably edge this but in truth, neither of these sides come into this in great form. Chelsea miserably gave up their challenge for fourth spot with terrible displays against Huddersfield and Newcastle, being played off the park in the latter. Conte made some questionable selections in both games, but would expect him to revert back to his trusted formation and starting 11 for this one. United also stumbled their way to the end of the season, finally securing second place with a dismal display at West Ham, following a defeat at Brighton. A 1-0 win at Old Trafford against Watford was hardly the momentum builder it could have been so basing this result on form is fairly impossible.
However, it is hard to believe the Chelsea squad will be coming into this game with any confidence having missed out on the top 4 and putting up such a limp effort in defending the Premier League trophy which they stormed to 12 months earlier. There is one important factor to bear in mind that could sway this and this is all to do with Conte. This is more than likely going to be his final game, so will he get one last big performance out of his men or has he truly lost the dressing room and this will be an extra nail in his coffin that already feels firmly closed.
Expected starting XIs
We know Chelsea will be set up in a 3-4-3 formation with Olivier Giroud likely to get the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata and Willian and Eden Hazard flanking him. Had United been playing anyone else, the starting eleven would have been easy to predict with Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba filling the midfield trio, with Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez playing either side of Romelu Lukaku. However, Mourinho normally changes the way he sets up whenever he faces Chelsea.
He could opt for a 3 at the back to go like for like, or he may use Herrera to do another job on Hazard, who on his day is probably still the most talented and dangerous individual footballer in England. But, I feel that Mourinho will think that this Chelsea team are there for the taking and are certainly nowhere near the level they were last season, therefore I think he will stick to the 4 at the back and trust that his team can dominate the play which will result in nullifying Hazard anyway.
As I mention, this looks certain to be Conte’s final game in the Chelsea dugout, in what has been a huge fall from the top of English football last season. The summer antics with Diego Costa and seemingly not being backed in the transfer market, seems to have really taken its toll on the Italian and I see no way he is still in charge at Stamford Bridge next season. Himself and Mourinho have had a season of verbal fisticuffs and it seems that Mourinho has come out on top. If Conte has given up on his job then there is probably only one man that could bring any inspiration and competitiveness out of Conte and that man will be the one opposite him as they walk their teams out at the home of England football on Saturday afternoon. There would be nothing more he would like than to end his time in England with a victory over the United manager, unfortunately for him, Mourinho would equally like to send Conte on his way with one more victory. It will be an intriguing battle between probably the 2 most tactical managers in the country and both with reasons to get the best out of their squads.
This final seems to be bigger on paper than it may actually be in reality. By name alone, it is a huge cup final, just as it was 12 months ago when Arsenal got the better of Chelsea. But both sides have recently put in some terrible performances and any repeat of that could result in one of the worst cup finals in recent memory. However, form more often than not goes straight out of the window for finals so how this will finish is anyone’s guess and I can genuinely see any result being possible here, including it being decided on penalties. I will, however, stick my neck out and say United to win by the odd goal in extra time, resulting in a Mourinho of old celebration.