LONDON, United Kingdom, May 19 – Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup final on Saturday as Eden Hazard scored the winner with a first-half penalty.
Here are three things we learned from the Wembley showpiece:
Conte out-wits Mourinho
In what could prove to be his final match as Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte enjoyed a sweet moment of vindication as he won his battle with old rival Jose Mourinho.
Conte had spent much of the season locked in a vitriolic feud with United boss Mourinho and although both claimed to have buried the hatchet this week, there was no doubting the Italian’s desire to beat his nemesis.
Conte played his part in Chelsea’s success, sending them out on the front foot in the first half and then ordering them to soak up United’s pressure after the interval.
It was a risky gambit but one that produced a handsome reward.
Yet Conte is aware his future at Chelsea is precarious after 12 months of tension behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and their failure to qualify for the Champions League.
“Our job is very difficult. Sometimes you can win but the club decides to sack you anyway,” he said recently.
Conte’s dismissal would not be without precedent — two years ago, United sacked manager Louis van Gaal within hours of winning the FA Cup.
It remains to be seen whether the Italian suffers the same fate after leading Chelsea to their first FA Cup since 2012.
For Mourinho, it was a rare disappointment on the big stage as he was beaten for only the third time in his 15 appearances in cup finals with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and United.
Criticised for adopting a cautious approach in United’s biggest games this season, Mourinho once again paid the price for being too conservative in the first half.
Mourinho had instructed Ander Herrera to stick close to Hazard, but that man-marking role left United out-numbered in midfield — and the Belgian made and scored the winner anyway.
United improved in the second half, but it was too late to stop Mourinho finishing the season empty-handed as Conte celebrated.
United stars fail to shine
Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez cost United over £120 million in total transfer fees, with their combined weekly wages amounting to around £500,000-per-week.
But all that eye-watering investment bought United was the latest in a long list of underwhelming displays from their supposed superstars.
Former Arsenal forward Sanchez had scored eight goals in as many games at Wembley for club and country, but in keeping with his lacklustre start to life with United, he was largely anonymous against Chelsea.
It didn’t help that Pogba once again played for long periods as though engaged in nothing more serious than a Sunday kickabout in the park.
The duo’s lack of cohesion was encapsulated in the second half when Pogba and Sanchez fell over one after the other as the France midfielder’s miscued pass to the Chilean was intercepted to stifle a United break.
Pogba was so out of sorts that he didn’t even hit the target with a late header that could have forced extra-time.
Hazard makes his case
Hazard was the lynchpin of Chelsea’s two Premier League title triumphs over the last four seasons, but, like many of his team-mates, this had been something of a lost year for the Belgium playmaker.
The 27-year-old had sparked talk of a move to Real Madrid this week when he flexed his muscles with Chelsea’s hierarchy, insisting he wanted to see who they sign in the close-season before deciding whether to sign a new contract.
But if that was concerning for Chelsea fans, they could at least take heart from Hazard’s whole-hearted commitment to tormenting United’s over-matched defence.
Phil Jones was brutally exposed when Hazard caught him out of position with a sublime touch in the 22nd minute, accelerating away from the United defender, who responded by conceding a penalty that the unruffled Chelsea star converted with nonchalant ease.
It was only Hazard’s second goal in his last 16 appearances.
But it was his crafty contributions that kept Chelsea in control as the Belgian, who departed to a standing ovation, won the FA Cup for the first time.