The 137th FA Cup final – and first utilising a video assistant referee – was a cagey affair, settled from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute after the outstanding Belgium forward was felled by England defender Phil Jones.
Here are the Wembley talking points:
CONTE’S TIME WILL COME AGAIN
If this is to be the last time Chelsea are led out by Conte, he departs with a black mark erased on his sterling resume.
Excluding a pair of Supercoppa Italiana’s won at Juventus, all five previous major honours had come in league competition. Cup tournaments had not been kind to the celebrated 48-year-old.
A timely fillip then, if he is to shortly become the eighth permanent manager – and 14th overall – jettisoned in the 15 years of Roman Abramovich’s ownership. That’s what failure to make the Champions League will do.
After the joy of 2016/17, Conte just about deserved this moment in the Wembley sunshine. No matter how fractious and trying nearly every moment has been since Premier League glory was followed by a blunt text to Spain striker Diego Costa and frequent complaints about recruitment.
This temperament might have caused Paris Saint-Germain to look elsewhere, despite his probable availability. Or the attrition that defined this unsightly showpiece, reminiscent of 2006/07’s nadir between these sides.
But he inherited a rabble after Euro 2016. A pair of major trophies and win percentage between permanent hires in the Abramovich era only bettered in Mourinho’s first stint in west London stand as major accolades.
He will succeed again, elsewhere.
JOSE’S MISTAKES, NOT JONES’
The watching Wembley crowd witnessed a train crash in slow motion.
From the moment Hazard got a yard on the leaden-footed Jones, impending disaster for United was a given. That the spot-kick came in such clumsy fashion was of no surprise for the fans who have watched the defender in action, when fit, since his 2011 arrival from Blackburn Rovers.
Like all accident investigations, the cause was found to be utterly preventable – and predictable.
Thrusting Jones in from the cold was a disaster waiting to happen. This was the defining mistake from a match to forget for Mourinho.
Rhythm is of vital importance for defenders who play on adrenaline like Jones. Lose it as he done through nearly 30 periods of inactivity when representing the Red Devils, and cumbersome decisions occur to slam into Hazard.
But this wasn’t the only slovenly aspect. United looked clueless for the first hour as Chelsea ceded possession and denied a lavishly assembled squad the opportunity to counter-attack.
The concept of fast, one or two-touch football to break through the Blues’ blocks of defence was anathema to the Premier League runners-up. Hooking England pair Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard seconds after they created their side’s best chance summed up the confused message.
Mourinho’s miserly methods will now be in sharp focus throughout a long summer ahead.
1 - Jose Mourinho has lost his first ever domestic cup final in England, winning each of his previous five (excl comm shield). Blunted. pic.twitter.com/40jWryOVHA— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 19, 2018
HAZE IS CLEARING FOR HAZARD
A gauntlet has been laid down to Chelsea.
Players of true greatness can follow veiled midweek threats about their future with match-winning performances.
Hazard’s penalty, borne of a faultless technique that combines calm and confidence, moved him onto 17 goals for the campaign – his second-most productive.
This is some achievement when the dysfunction and depression that inflicted the Blues, at various spells, is considered.
Hazard played the countering game perfectly at Wembley. But this isn’t his dream.
When Conte – as expected – leaves, players and a head coach must be brought in to make the Belgium ace smile again. His exit cannot be countenanced.
Eden Hazard was in sparkling form as his first-half penalty, after he had been fouled by Phil Jones, proved the deciding factor.
Check out our Chelsea ratings below …
Thibaut Courtois: The busier of the two goalkeepers. Saved well from Marcus Rashford, twice, and Phil Jones. 8 (out of 10).
Cesar Azpilicueta: Mr Consistency, Mr Dependable. Sterling work from the Spaniard, as usual. 7.
Gary Cahill: A calm, experienced head in an at times high octane game. Showed his value to Chelsea – and England. 8.
Antonio Rudiger: Robust presence, nullifying the threat of Rashford and then Romelu Lukaku. 7.
Victor Moses: Sent off in 2017 final against Arsenal, he stayed on his feet this time and was a useful outlet. 6.
N’Golo Kante: Excellent and exceptionally busy. Shielded his defence and snuffed out attempted counter attacks. 8.
Tiemoue Bakayoko: Bought as Nemanja Matic’s replacement, but second best to the Serb early on. Grew into the game. 6.
Cesc Fabregas: Wanted to replace his lost 2005 winners’ medal. Could not get on the ball. 6.
Marcos Alonso: Had to curtail his rampaging from left-back, but was equal to his opponents on the flank. 7.
Eden Hazard: Scored a penalty on his 300th Chelsea appearance, after being brought down by Jones. 8.
Olivier Giroud: Stuck to his task well, despite little opportunity. Seemed to relish the isolation at times. 6.
Alvaro Morata (for Giroud, 89): Sent on for tired legs. Finishes a mediocre first season with a trophy. 5
Willian (for Hazard, 90): Brought on to run down the time. 5.
The Premier League transfer window is now open and the market in the rest of Europe will spark into life soon.
With the transfer rumours growing in pace and volume during this ‘silly season’, it can be difficult and painstaking to separate the stories of some legitimacy from the rest of the noise.
Fortunately, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do it for you.
Below, you’ll find some of the latest transfer news churned out of the rumour mill broken down and analysed for your benefit along with our calculated predictions.
WILFRIED ZAHA – From Crystal Palace to Liverpool
After another stunning season there will be many suitors for the Crystal Palace winger but will Zaha be allowed to leave as manager Roy Hodgson is desperate to keep him. And if he does leave will he be wearing red or light blue come August?
Why it will happen: With both City and Liverpool looking at four competitions next year, and both clubs desperate to find quality back-up for their overworked front men, they will be ready to make very tempting offers to the talented Zaha – who is ready to take the next step.
Why it won’t happen: Zaha’s brief stay at Manchester United was a disaster and his on and off field performance was enough to kill of any big club’s interest in the Ivorian in the future. Also Hodgson is already hatching plans to keep him locked down and deterring suitors.
Prediction: Like Mohamed Salah, Zaha has failed before at a big Premier League club before and will want to redeem himself with a second chance. The huge wage-boost plus the chance to play in the Champions League will be very tempting to the 25-year-old. Who he chooses will be a toss-up but Liverpool may just have an edge as they may be more desperate to sign him.
Rating – 6/10 Liverpool
GIANLUIGI BUFFON – From Juventus to Liverpool
Reports have surfaced that the Italian legend could be heading to Merseyside for a final swansong.
Why it will happen: Buffon is renowned all over the world and would be welcome by the Anfield faithful. His knowledge would also be beneficial in training up young No1 Loris Karius.
Why it won’t happen: The arrival of Buffon would go against all of Liverpool’s well stated policies of investing in young talent. As great as Buffon is he is well past his prime at 40.
Prediction: This rumour belongs in fantasy land. Even if Buffon was to come for free and play for free Jurgen Klopp still would not want him. The closest Buffon will get to Anfield next year is watching on TV.
Rating – 1/10
JOE HART – From West Ham to Wolves
After being left out of the England World Cup squad and shown the door by West Ham, Joe Hart will be desperate to prove he is not washed up. And according to reports Wolverhampton Wanderers are keen on making a summer move for the on-loan City keeper, which Pep Guardiola is highly unlikely to block.
Why it will happen: Hart is just 31-years-old and working on the Buffon scale could play on for another decade. A club like Wolves would be a good fit for Hart as they would be keen to have him and treat him with considerable respect – Hart would also go straight into a leadership role in the playing group.
Why it won’t happen: The on-loan City man is sick and tired of the poor treatment and unwarranted criticism heaped on him in the UK and will be more than happy to take the riches on offer in Europe where no doubt he will have many suitors ready to open their bank accounts.
Prediction: This is a question of ego vs cash and so bruised is the considerable ego of Hart, odds are high that he will try a new start with the ambitious Wolves who will be more than happy to soothe said ego and may just get the best out of him.
Rating – 7/10