SOS: Save our Season – How this years FA Cup final is more than just a game for Mourinho & Conte

SOS: Save our Season – How this years FA Cup final is more than just a game for Mourinho & Conte

Conte v Mourinho – Who will be bailed out come full-time?

Jose Mourinho takes on his former side this weekend when Manchester United battle it out with Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Mourinho’s men head into this clash as steady favourites to lift the trophy considering the dismal form their opponents have displayed in recent weeks, but that can all count for nothing when it comes to an occasion such as a cup final.

Two managers who are used to such success, season after season now need this one match to save their respective campaigns. But who will come out on top when the final whistle is blown on Saturday evening, and who will ultimately be deemed a failure, despite spending vast amounts of money chasing silverware this season?

Where did it all go wrong for Chelsea?

Chelsea have been extremely poor this season, there’s no other way of summing it all up to be honest. The Blues were fantastic in every aspect last term, winning the Premier League with relative ease, freely scoring goals and resilient at the back. This time out though, it’s a completely different story. Antonio Conte looks a shadow of his former self; it’s abundantly clear that he no longer wishes to be at the club, and more importantly, the board don’t want him there either.

Embarrassing defeats to the likes of Bournemouth, Watford and most recently Newcastle on the seasons final day are worth mentioning when discussing the campaign the Blues have endured this time around. They would have never of fallen short to those sides last season, so what’s exactly gone wrong?

Many would argue it’s down to the fact they got rid of arguably their best midfielder last summer, Nemanja Matic, and replaced him with Tiémoué Bakayoko, who looks to have been the worst signing in the Premier League this season. Conte also let Diego Costa just leave without any attempt at salvaging the pairs relationship, instead replacing with Alvaro Morata from Juventus, another player who despite a bright start has now fallen massively short of the quality expected of him as Chelsea’s leading man.

Last chance saloon for the Blues and their Italian Stallion

Chelsea have now missed out on Champions League football next season after finishing the campaign behind Tottenham in 5th. They made no real attempt at progressing in the EFL Cup and were dumped out of European competition by Barcelona earlier on in the year, so now require a strong performance here to save what has been a quite frankly shambolic season at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues journey to the final has been a fairly straight forward one, paved with comfortable victory’s over sides much less capable than themselves, despite their current form. First though, they made hard work of beating Championship side Norwich, eventually overcoming the Canaries in the second leg replay on home soil after a terrible goalless stalemate at Carrrow Road in early-January.

Newcastle and Hull were then appropriately dealt with in a bullish manner that had fans confident in their sides ability to go the distance in this years competition. But hard work was made of their quarter-final clash with Leicester, which needed to be taken to extra-time to be decided. More recently it was Southampton’s turn to roll over and play dead, as the Blues grounded the otherwise occupied Premier League strugglers down in the second half, surpassing the southerners with an easy 2-0 win on a hot mid-April Sunday at Wembley.

Mourinho facing the possibility of a trophy-less season

United’s season has been inconsistent to say the least. Just like the rest of the division, they played second-fiddle to Pep Guardiola’s dominant Manchester City side throughout the whole campaign and had to make do with a second place finish when the season meandered to its close last weekend.

United’s efforts in the Champions League were also meek; after topping their qualifying group without any complications, they were dumped out of the competition by a far less capable Sevilla side after losing the second leg tie 2-1 at Old Trafford in a result that shocked everyone.

The EFL Cup was also a disappointment for the Red Devils this term; after winning the competition last season, Mourinho’s side found themselves humiliated by Championship outfit Bristol City in the quarter-finals at Ashton Gate. Their only chance of obtaining any silverware this season now rest solely on this FA Cup final clash with Chelsea, and after looking at their journey to Wembley, you’d perhaps fancy them to go the distance.

United dominant in their journey to the final

Jose Mourinho’s side have been emphatic in this competition this season, kicking off the campaign with a comfortable 2-0 win over Derby. They then avoided a colossal banana skin when they stuck four past League Two minnows Yeovil without reply, before dispatching David Wagner’s Huddersfield in a typically routine fashion thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku.

It was then the turn of Brighton to be dealt with, and just like that game against the Terriers, United made no mistake in asserting their dominance at the Amex; repeating the 2-0 scoreline that had gone before them just a month previous.

Undoubtedly, their biggest challenge came in the form of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in the semi-finals of the competition last month. Many people would have had doubts about their ability to overcome a Spurs side that have been so strong at home this season, but they did, even after initially going a goal down through Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli.

Alexis Sanchez has endured an underwhelming time at Old Trafford since his arrival from Arsenal in January, but he stepped up in that clash to draw his side level with a rare header at the back post. Bit-part midfielder Ander Herrera then clinched the match for United just after the hour mark with an extremely cute finish past a helpless Hugo Lloris. Next stop, Wembley (again).

Lukaku touch & go

Manchester United will be hoping leading goalscorer Romelu Lukaku will be fit in time to play a part in this match. The Belgian frontman has been sidelined with an ankle injury since last month, when he was injured in United’s 2-1 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford.

He didn’t feature in United’s following three league games against Brighton, West Ham & Watford in the hope that he’d be able to participate in this season-determining match, but it still remains unclear as in to whether or not he’ll be fit enough to start on Saturday. Lukaku has scored in all but one of United’s five games building up to the final, so he’ll definitely be a huge loss should he miss out on this encounter.

It’s more than likely that Lukaku will at least start this game, but will he step up on the big stage when it matters most? Too often the giant Belgian goes missing in huge games, his main criticism has lied within the fact he ‘only scores against small teams’.

Lukaku is the Premier League’s highest goalscorer in the FA Cup with 5 goals, but they’ve all been against ‘smaller sides’ who have offered barely anything in the way of stopping him. He was largely ineffective against Spurs in the semi-final, so now needs to put in a massive performance in this clash against his former side to restore some faith in his ability to make an impact at the highest level.

There’s no doubting that Chelsea will have to put in an extremely big performance to come out on top against the man they once hailed as ‘The Messiah’.

Mourinho will not want to lose this match, not only because if he does, he’ll face the all-too real possibility of going through a whole season without winning a trophy for the first time in, well, forever. But aside from that, he simply can’t be shown up by his former employers, the ones he once called family but was so coldly shut out of following one poor season at the helm. His side will line up in a machine like fashion. Hard to get past, almost impossible to break down and determined to grind out the win – but will it be enough on the day?

For Conte, it looks as though it’s a case of too little, too late. It’s almost certain that the Italian will leave Stamford Bridge in the summer, but he’ll still want to depart on a high. Not just by winning the FA Cup, but by snatching it away from the man he’s had a fascinating rivalry with for the past 2 years. It would be a shame to see such a character leave England with his reputation somewhat tarnished by a severely disappointed campaign, but we’re sure Mourinho won’t care too much about that.

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