Chelsea have endured a turbulent final few months of the Roman Abramovich era and will be aiming to start a new one with an FA Cup double. The men’s and women’s teams will be at Wembley this weekend in the hope of bringing trophies back to Stamford Bridge to end the season on a much-needed high.
Thomas Tuchel’s side have fallen short of the expectations Chelsea had in August. After winning the Champions League and investing heavily in Romelu Lukaku, the manager and fans will have been hoping for greater success. They lost in the Carabao Cup final to Saturday’s opponents, Liverpool, and revenge would be sweet. The prospective new owners will want to spend money on players, and the club would be a far more attractive option with another trophy in the cabinet.
The uncertainty surrounding Chelsea has had an impact on the men’s squad. Players want certainty to help them focus on the pitch. Seeing Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen being unable to discuss new contracts, with the German poised to join Real Madrid, brings disruption. Chelsea’s success last season was built on defensive solidity, so the prospect of losing key center-backs will concern many.
Not everything can be blamed on contracts though. In the past few weeks the mistakes that led to goals were uncharacteristic. It could be down to fatigue because they played a lot of games last season and this, and the squad might need freshening up to motivate the players.
Tuchel has navigated the situation impressively. He will have wanted to finish closer to Manchester City and Liverpool but it is hard to compete against two teams that have been all but flawless for so long. He has almost certainly secured Champions League football next season, which is imperative.
The victory at Elland Road on Wednesday shows there was merit in canceling the team’s day off to hold talks with the players after the Wolves draw. It was a case of risk versus reward. They were clearly not playing well and the improvement will help the team going into their one big game left. If there is something as significant as the FA Cup at stake then it’s worth clearing the air. Whether it is discussing positives or home truths, getting things off your chest can help to release tension.
Emma Hayes’s side would see a Wembley victory over Manchester City as the cherry on the cake. There is something special about this group. They had to give everything in the Women’s Super League right up to the final moment to ensure they won a third successive title. For months they have known any slip could give Arsenal the advantage, which will have focused minds when the issues surrounding the club could have been a distraction.
Arsenal did not drop a point from the start of March to the end of the season. Although that sort of threat keeps the mind sharp it will also have left the players mentally fatigued at this stage. Hayes knows how and when to get the best out of her players, so she won’t be concerned about extending the season by another week.
Chelsea will be confident going into the final but I fancy Manchester City, which I know sounds really strange. They will have had less pressure recently, even though they’ve had to fight for their Champions League spot. They were comfortable in the end because of how they’ve been playing. They won their final nine league games, scoring for fun and everyone’s been chipping in with goals.
Chelsea have the experience of winning last season’s Cup as recently as December but City beat them in the Continental Cup final in March. I think City will dominate the ball and they have been incredible since February, really kicking on once they got their best players back.
Chelsea will always cause problems for opponents though. They have an in-form Sam Kerr and as we saw in last season’s Cup final against Arsenal, they are so good in transitions and with direct balls over the top.
The big test for Chelsea this week will be recovering from such an emotional day last Sunday when they beat Manchester United to secure the title. Hayes is a great advocate of recovery, sometimes even more than training itself. The players looked nervous against United in the first half and although they came through the test and were the better side in the second half, there was a 45-minute period where I did not recognize them. I don’t think that will be the case again at Wembley.
Key players will depart the men’s and women’s sides this summer. The women have coped better with the idea that Ji So-yun and Drew Spence will leave because they still have the spine of their team, whereas the men could lose 33% of their defense. The squads will have extra motivation to make sure all those players leave on a high after everything they have done for the club.
There should be no distractions over the weekend. Focus can be placed on 180 decisive minutes that could be the springboard for greater success next season. The teams have done incredibly well to get this far in the circumstances. Now it is time to finish the job.