Manchester United are the marginal bookies’ favourites to defeat Chelsea and lift the FA Cup when the two sides meet at Wembley on Saturday (5.15pm, live on BBC1).
Man Utd are one of the most successful teams in the history of the FA Cup and would move level with Arsenal at the top of the standings with a 13th triumph in the competition if they were to emerge victorious on Saturday. Coach Jose Mourinho is seeking his second.
Chelsea have lifted the famous trophy seven times, although the majority of those have come since Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club and significant injection of funds in 2003. At the end of a season that has otherwise disappointed domestically and in Europe, victory on Saturday would at least provide some reason for celebration.
The future of coach Antonio Conte is still very much in doubt after a campaign in which Chelsea have not only failed to defend the Premier League title they won in his debut season last time out but also to secure Champions League football for next season. The top of the table is highly competitive, but their fifth-place finish still doesn’t read well.
Chelsea have defeated fellow top-flight sides Newcastle, Leicester and Southampton en route to the final, but it has still been an easier path than the one they had to traverse last season. Then, they defeated Man Utd, with a goal from N’Golo Kante, then Manchester City in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively before falling to a 1-2 defeat to Arsenal in the final.
It is an interesting quirk of Conte’s coaching career to date that he has won five league titles at Bari, Juventus and Chelsea but is yet to succeed in a knockout competition. That loss to Arsenal was a second defeat in the two finals his teams have competed in. The other came in 2012, when his Juventus side lost out at Napoli in the Coppa Italia final.
In contrast, Mourinho has a stellar record in cup finals. He was won 12 out of 14 in his coaching career to date and is undefeated in five in English competitions, including a 1-0 victory for Chelsea over United in the FA Cup final of 2007. Last season, his side triumphed in both the League Cup (against Southampton) and the Europa League (against Ajax).
This campaign has already yielded a much-improved showing in the Premier League, with Man Utd jumping up four places from sixth to second, albeit some distance away from champions Manchester City, but Saturday’s final provides their only opportunity for silverware. Trophies are Mourinho’s primary currency and he will be determined to secure another.
United recovered from a slow start to defeat Tottenham Hotspur in their semi-final. Alexis Sanchez equalised Tottenham’s early opener, Ander Herrera put United ahead just past the hour mark and from there they defended well to secure their place in the final. That was their hardest engagement in a run that had previously seen them dispose of Derby County, Yeovil Town, Huddersfield and Brighton.
Romelu Lukaku has been a decisive presence in Man Utd’s progress through the competition. Though he didn’t score in the semi-final against Spurs, he had scored in every previous round (including twice against Huddersfield in the fifth round) as part of his total of 26 goals in all competitions. Reports suggest he will shake off a foot injury to take part this weekend.
This is the third time that Chelsea and United have squared off in the FA Cup final. United won 4-0 in 1994, while, as previously mentioned, Chelsea recorded a 1-0 win in 2007. There has also been little to separate them in recent league encounters. They shared a win apiece this season, while their last six league meetings have yielded two wins apiece and two draws.
Man Utd are, however, the more likely victors on Saturday and the bookmakers just make them favoured to win. Chelsea are in marginally the better form, but Mourinho very rarely gets his approach wrong in these kind of one-off encounters, as his side’s semi-final win over Spurs demonstrated. This FA Cup final preview believes that a record-equalling 13th FA Cup triumph is within United’s capabilities.