Without Manchester City in the final it felt as though the Football Association’s special day was missing English football’s true royalty this season, but Eden Hazard was king for the day – scoring the only goal of the game to defeat Manchester United – and Chelsea were crowned FA Cup winners, to end the season with some silverware following a disappointing Premier League campaign in which they finished fifth.
Given some of the passing in the opening 20 minutes from both sides it seemed as if the players could’ve been on Harry’s stag do the night before and not rolled in until six o’clock in the morning. Cesc Fabregas looped one into the air pointlessly. Marcus Rashford dropped deep and then it was hard to tell what he was trying as he played the ball straight to a Chelsea player.
The start was all very much like that bit in the afternoon at weddings where everyone is waiting around before the ceremony in their best clothes and nothing much is really happening.
But then proceedings sparked into life: Fabregas curled a ball forward, King Hazard’s first touch took him beyond Phil Jones and as they sprinted towards United’s goal there was always only going to be one winner. Yet just as Hazard came within range to test David de Gea the England defender brought him down for a penalty. Hazard calmly sent it into the bottom right corner.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was apoplectic on the touchline, insisting that Jones should’ve been sent off. The regulations mean that if referee Michael Oliver believes Jones made a genuine attempt to play the ball, then it is not a sending off; but, equally, that is applying a huge dollop of optimism to the belief that Jones was going to get anywhere near the ball as he ploughed into the back of his opponent.
It does not bode well for England that Jones was completely outfoxed by Hazard earlier in the half when he could come up against him again against Belgium in the World Cup. Not only did Jones give the ball away to Tiemoue Bakayoko initially, when Hazard received the ball he went around the United centre-back as though he was kidding around with his three-year-old Samy in the kitchen with a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other.
Rashford looks a player bereft of confidence; brimmed full of it during the first half of the season, but having had it sucked out of him by United manager Jose Mourinho. The young striker was brought in to replace Romelu Lukaku, who struggled with injury in the build-up, only a fortnight after Mourinho tore into him for his poor performance in their defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion.
This was just Rashford’s seventh start in 21 games since Alexis Sanchez signed in January. His other contributions included a 25-yard shot way over the crossbar, a left-hand side free kick straight at Chelsea’s wall, another free kick beaten away, a shot straight at Thibaut Courtois and missing a one-on-one. Then he was off. Gareth Southgate has some work to do.