Manchester United face off against Chelsea on Saturday in the FA Cup final, as both teams attempt to salvage underwhelming seasons with a bit of silverware. Ahead of big clash, we spoke to our colleague and Friend of the Site (he’s been here before) Dávid Pásztor from Chelsea blog We Ain’t Got No History. You can check my Q&A at their place here.
The Busby Babe: First things first. Let us win on Saturday. Not because we’re necessarily in better form, but because we’re currently facing the nightmare scenario of City winning the league in record fashion and Liverpool somehow winning the Champions League. Can you imagine the media fawning? It doesn’t bear thinking about. So we need this trophy. Be good sports, and play like you did against Newcastle, okay?
We Ain’t Got No History: While the level of Chelsea’s rivalry with Liverpool is nowhere near United’s, losing the FA Cup to you guys and then watching Liverpool luck their way into a 12-7 win next weekend would be a pretty serious double whammy for Chelsea fans, too.
TBB: It’s been a strange season for you, and one that will likely end with Conte and Chelsea parting ways very soon. but this seems to happen every couple of years. Manager wins trophy, immediately (extreme pundit voice) “loses the dressing room,” then gets sacked. Rinse and repeat. Where did it go wrong for Conte and the team this season?
WAGNH: Chelsea sack managers all the time, but the circumstances are never as simple or as straightforward as the media makes them out to be. Many have jumped on Conte’s touchline demeanor for example, but he “sulked” just the same whenever Chelsea lost last year, too. We just didn’t lose that often so it was not seen as often. Others claim he just wants his payoff, or even going as far as sabotaging his own team and future. To me that’s absolutely ridiculous, but maybe I’m using too much common sense. And as far as “whining” about transfers, all managers do that.
In reality, it was probably a combination of heightened expectations after last season, yet another terrible summer transfer window -- the idea was to expand the squad, instead we downgraded from Costa and Matic and Terry to younger, less consistent, less proven players (Morata, Bakayoko, Christensen), who might be amazing one day but aren’t yet -- many, many more injuries (including Hazard’s broken ankle, Morata’s back, David Luiz’s knee), many, many more games (59 vs. 47), and many, many more stories and assorted speculation in the media from just about day one of the season regarding Conte’s future. Conte himself isn’t without fault either as he couldn’t quite figure out a solid rotation and made questionable tactical and in-game decisions a fair few times.
TBB: One of Conte’s biggest gripes has been the poor player recruitment after winning the title. How would you grade Chelsea’s recent work in the transfer market?
WAGNH: Poor to very poor, including a weird fascination with buying injured or recently injured players (Barkley, Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Rudiger just over the past 12 months) and leaving business far too late, usually for deadline day.
TBB: Speaking of transfers, at one point last year, it looked fairly certain that United and Chelsea would have each other’s current number nines. We’re really pleased with how Lukaku has panned out. How’s Morata done? Do you still think you got the better player? Any regrets?
WAGNH: There’s no contest at the moment. Morata has a few goals, but most of them and most of his good play had come before December. That January signing Olivier Giroud started over Chelsea’s record signing in the biggest match of the season against Barcelona says it all.
TBB: Mourinho has always made keeping Hazard in check the focus of his strategy when we’ve played you, but we’ll need to do that and more on Saturday. Tactically, where do you think the game will be won or lost?
WAGNH: If Chelsea’s midfielders show up and maybe even help out N’Golo Kante a little bit, we might have a chance. Of course we’d still have to find our shooting boots, too.
TBB: How do expect Conte to line up the team? Any chance he sarcastically starts Barkley and Zappacosta?
WAGNH: Recently, big games meant three-man midfields and just two forwards, one withdrawn, and that’s what I still would expect from Conte. The team that beat Liverpool 1-0 is probably a good template to follow (3-5-1-1):
Courtois | Rudiger, Cahill, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Bakayoko, Kante, Fabregas, Moses | Hazard, Giroud
TBB: And finally, predictions for the final score?
WAGNH: Feeling strangely, unreasonably optimistic; 1-0 Chelsea just like last year’s quarterfinal.
TBB: Nice one, Dávid. Thanks for stopping by!