Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0: Eden Hazard penalty seals FA Cup Final glory for Antonio Conte's Blues at Wembley

JAMES OLLEY
REUTERS

Chelsea defied speculation over the future of manager Antonio Conte by winning the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory over Manchester United courtesy of Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

In what is widely expected to be Conte’s final match in charge, the Blues finished their campaign with the Italian’s first ever domestic cup success after a defensively resilient display at Wembley.

United dominated for long periods – and virtually the entirety of the second half – but they were unable to cancel out Hazard’s 22nd-minute spot-kick, failing to make the most of their possession by wasting several promising opportunities with profligate finishing or a poor final ball.

Chelsea were dogged in a manner reminiscent of their best under Conte, remaining compact and disciplined in the face of a sustained pressure, and supplemented by the mercurial Hazard in attack.

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It is Chelsea’s eighth win – only United and Arsenal have won the competition more – and one which adds gloss to an otherwise disappointing campaign in which the Blues failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Whether Conte will be around the mastermind an improvement remains to be seen but he got the upper hand here against his fierce rival Jose Mourinho, who must be content with second place and a trophyless campaign after losing a final for only the third time in 15 occasions.

United began without Romelu Lukaku - only deemed fit enough for the bench following an ankle injury – meaning Marcus Rashford led the attack with Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard in support.

Ander Herrera was once again detailed to man-mark Hazard, who started behind Olivier Giroud in Conte’s 3-5-2 system with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois making his first appearance in the competition this season. Gary Cahill, this week recalled into the England squad for this summer’s World Cup finals, captained Chelsea and it was another of Gareth Southgate’s selections who made a shaky start.

Jones, preferred to centre-back partner Chris Smalling by Southgate for his final 23, encapsulated a sloppy start from United, gifting Chelsea possession before Hazard made inroads down the left and fired a low shot which David De Gea kept out smartly at his near post.

It soon got worse for Jones. After lukewarm penalty appeals at either end – Nemanja Matic on Tiemoue Bakayoko (challenge began outside the box) and Cesar Azpilicueta on Alexis Sanchez (insufficient contact) – Chelsea were awarded a spot-kick as Jones, painfully slow into stride, allowed Hazard to burst past him before lunging in his direction with a last-ditch tackle as the Chelsea playmaker wound up to shoot.

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Jones failed to get a touch on the ball and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Some supporters demanded a red card but Jones was saved by the triple punishment law change which ensure only a penalty and yellow card is given if there was a genuine attempt to play the ball.

Hazard stroked home the penalty to De Gea’s left as he leapt right and thoughts drifted to the summer when England face Belgium in the group stage. It will have been uncomfortable viewing for Southgate.

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United continued to dictate play with Chelsea content to sit deep and strike on the counter-attack. Pogba fired a shot wide before Jones almost made amends on the stroke of half-time as Ashley Young swung a cross to the back post but the centre-back could only steer the ball wide from inside the six-yard box.

Rashford then fluffed a good chance after fine work from Pogba, generating no pace at all on a tame left-footed effort in what proved to be the final action of the opening 45 minutes.

United upped the tempo after the restart, Rashford forcing Courtois to beat away a fierce drive after Sanchez brilliantly won the ball as Cesc Fabregas dawdled. Chelsea were pushed further back as United poured forward, restricted further to sporadic raids led by Hazard.

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Antonio Valencia was booked just before the hour mark for cynically ending one such foray.

United thought they had equalised a few minutes later when Sanchez converted from a tight angle after Courtois did superbly to keep out Jones’ header from Rashford’s free-kick but the Chilean was fractionally offside.

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United continued to press but consequently there was space for Chelsea to exploit at the other end. N’Golo Kante burst into the box and fed Marcus Alonso, whose low shot was saved by De Gea with his legs.

Courtois came to Chelsea’s rescue again as Rashford broke clear and stabbed a shot goalwards. It turned out to be Rashford’s final contribution as Lukaku was introduced for the final 17 minutes in a double change which also saw Anthony Martial replace Lingard.

Pogba wasted a glorious chance to equalise with nine minutes left as he ghosted unmarked into the box to meet Martial’s corner but the Frenchman could only head the ball wide of goal.

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It was arguably United best opportunity of the day. There would not be another, handing Conte his moment in the sun.