A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s FA Cup semi final win.
Chelsea progressed through to this season’s FA Cup Final on Sunday with a rousing victory over Southampton. The score finished 2-0 but in truth The Blues were the much stronger side and thoroughly deserved a second consecutive trip to the end of the domestic season showpiece.
Yes, Southampton did get close to scoring with Nathan Redmond’s low drive from distance and Charlie Austin did hit the post, but Chelsea controlled most of the match and played on the front foot throughout.
Antonio Conte had opted for a 3-4-3 formation as Olivier Giroud was given the start over Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas returned to central midfield, Emerson Palmieri played again on the left in place of the suspended Marcos Alonso and Willy Caballero kept his FA Cup goalkeeping place.
Mark Hughes sent his Southampton side out in a 4-3-3 in the hope that the extra central midfielder would give them the advantage. However it was Chelsea’s front 3 who made the difference. Giroud gave everything in trying to win the ball and hold up play as he linked his teammates into the attack.
Early on Willian seemed to be everywhere. His pace and trickery pulled The Saints cover in all directions. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he couldn’t find the back of the net himself with his best strike hitting the crossbar as another Chelsea quick counter attack tore through their opponents.
But it was Eden Hazard who really dominated this match. By the final whistle his ball control and fast movement was breathtaking. He was totally unplayable as the Southampton players were helpless in trying to stop him. But it all started with his remarkable control and pass on to Giroud despite being off balance.
That through ball left the Frenchman with plenty to do. But with the Chelsea support sitting down behind the goal as though they were at the ballet, it was Giroud who tip toed and pirouetted his way to open the scoring. It was this combined skill level that highlighted the difference between the 2 sides.
As the Chelsea players celebrated in front of their supporters, the entire Southampton defence had to literally pick themselves back up off the floor. It was a moment of sheer brilliance worthy of such an occasion.
This shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. After all, if you combine Giroud’s record in the competition with his record against Southampton. He now has 15 FA Cup goals and has struck 8 times in total against The Saints, including 3 this month.
The goal was the catalyst for the match becoming more open as Mark Hughes’s side desperately tried to engineer an equaliser. The Saints tried their hardest but the closest they came to an equaliser was when Charlie Austin bundled Willy Caballero into the goal whilst the keeper struggled to keep hold of the ball.
But it was The Blues who looked the more likely to score next. Eden Hazard was breathtaking in possession again and with Willian, Victor Moses, Cesc Fabregas and the impressive Emerson Palmieri supporting target man Giroud, Chelsea in reality always had too much for The Saints.
Even when Mark Hughes tweaked his formation slightly by substituting in the more attack minded midfielder Nathan Redmond, Conte countered with going with 3 in midfield. Sadly for Willian, it was the Brazilian who was sacrificed and he looked saddened by the decision as he trudged off.
But the change did its job and the foundation was set for the icing on the cake. On 80 minutes, goalscorer Giroud was given a standing ovation as he was replaced by Alvaro Morata. Within 2 minutes, a delightful deep cross from Cesar Azpilicueta found the Spaniard who returned to the score sheet with a powerful downward header to double Chelsea’s lead.
There was no way back for Southampton and it was Chelsea who progressed to next month’s Wembley show piece to face Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. It will be Conte’s second FA Cup Final in just 2 attempts, which is all the more impressive from someone who has never won a domestic cup competition as a manager.
Here’s to the Italian breaking his duck on 19 May, a date in the year which has been quite beneficial to The Blues in the past.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue