LONDON – Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup thanks to Eden Hazard’s penalty at Wembley on Saturday to salvage a disappointing season.
In what is still widely expected to be Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s final game in charge, the Blues withstood a second-half onslaught from United after Hazard’s 22nd-minute spot-kick to ensure Jose Mourinho’s men end the season trophyless.
On a day where the world’s eyes were on a royal wedding 18 miles west in Windsor, Chelsea reigned on the field to salvage a campaign in which they failed to even qualify for the Champions League after finishing fifth in the Premier League.
And should it prove to be Conte’s last game in charge, the Italian’s bowed out on a high as his decision to start first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the first time in the FA Cup this season over Willy Caballero was justified by a series of saves from the Belgian to keep United at bay after the break.
United were without top-scorer Romelu Lukaku from the start, as the Belgian was only fit enough for a place on the bench against his former club due to an ankle injury.
Lukaku’s presence was missed as Chelsea settled quickest, with Hazard particularly lively in the space between the United defence and midfield.
The diminutive Belgian threatened first when he burst past Phil Jones only to see a fiercely-struck low effort parried by the legs of David de Gea.
Hazard’s next break proved decisive as he took advantage of more indecision by Jones to race clear on goal before being chopped down by the England defender as he prepared to shoot.
Chelsea players and Conte argued for a red card rather than yellow, but Jones’s attempt to play the ball saved him from a dismissal.
Hazard dusted himself down to coolly send De Gea the wrong way from the spot for his 18th goal of the season.
United had come from a goal behind to win against Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals and the last time they met Chelsea at Old Trafford in February.
However, the lack of invention that Mourinho’s side have been routinely criticised for throughout the campaign showed in their efforts to get back on terms.
Jones had United’s best chance of the first half, but headed wide at the back post as he tried to make amends for his earlier error.
Marcus Rashford also failed to make the most of a rare start as a central striker in Lukaku’s absence.
The England international was unable make a clean contact when teed up by a purposeful Paul Pogba run in the last action of the first 45 minutes.
Courtois wasn’t called into action until just before the hour mark when Rashford stung his palms as United dominated the second half.
The Chelsea keeper then made a brilliant stop low to his left to parry an acrobatic Pogba effort and Alexis Sanchez was denied a ninth goal in as many appearances at Wembley when he was flagged offside after firing the rebound into the roof of the net.
At the other end, De Gea kept United alive by saving from Marcos Alonso and Ashley Young was lucky to avoid conceding a second penalty when Alonso’s cross came off his arm.
Rashford’s biggest and last chance to make himself a hero came 20 minutes from time when Courtois rushed from his goal to make a brilliant save from the forward’s attempted chip.
Mourinho reacted by hooking Rashford and Jesse Lingard for Lukaku and Anthony Martial.
But it was Pogba who had the biggest chance to level when the £89 million midfielder headed wide from a corner eight minutes from time.AFP