A first-half penalty by Belgian forward Eden Hazard was enough to give Chelsea a 1-0 win over Manchester United on Saturday in a highly anticipated FA Cup final that squared off the embattled current manager, Antonio Conte, against the club’s former boss, Jose Mourinho.
The game witnessed no more barbed comments between the two rival managers, but it did include plenty of defensive play on both sides as neither team was able to mount an effective attack. Manchester United dominated 66% of possession but failed to create effective chances in front of the goal. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s back five were extremely effective, keeping United to just five on-target shots out of 18 attempts.
The key play came in the 22nd minute. Regaining possession close to the Chelsea box, midfielder Victor Moses fought off an an aggressive Marcus Rashford to get a pass to Cesc Fabregas, who quickly booted the ball up the field to a sprinting Eden Hazard. Hazard gave the ball a perfect touch that kept it moving quickly towards goal and beyond United defender Phil Jones. As Hazard broke away towards the goal, Jones lunged forward against Hazard’s legs in an illegal tackle that earned him a yellow card and awarded Chelsea a shot at goal from the penalty box. The Belgian striker coolly slotted the penalty into the right side of the goal as United keeper David de Gea lunged left.
Before the game, Eden Hazard indicated that he may not be returning next year and implied it was due to Chelsea’s lacklustre season. The likelihood of his return could depend on whether "good players" are signed in the offseason, based on the winger's pre-match comments.
Antonio Conte’s fate is in even more doubt. A year after being Premier League champions, Chelsea finished outside the top four teams qualifying for the Champions League and 30 points behind recently crowned champion Manchester City.
That being said, winning a trophy to end the season was not a meaningless prize. “We needed to achieve this goal for everybody, no matter what happens in the future,” said captain Gary Cahill. “This was to save our season”, Cahill said before collecting the FA Cup for his team. “I'm not saying we've had a magnificent season by any stretch. But we are used to winning, not in an arrogant way, but we have to try to win things.”
Conte’s victory - his first cup final - left Jose Mourinho without a trophy for a second season in a row, the result of a team that lacked spirit and offensive drive until after the break. The first shot on target from a United player came only in the 56th minute, an opportunity taken by Marcus Rashford that was well defended by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who came off his line to block the forward.
United continued to press Chelsea through to the end of the second half, but the Chelsea defence held up against a Manchester attack that appeared disjointed despite the energetic efforts of Alexis Sanchez.
Though they didn’t bring home any silverware, United finished second in the Premier League, the club’s best performance since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down after winning the league in 2013.