At Last – the Waiting is Over

F.A. Cup Final 2021 Chelsea 0 Leicester City 1

Report from home by Tish Krokosz

Having waited 52 years to reach a F.A. Cup Final, City fans were excited but perhaps a touch apprehensive after the way Newcastle had thrashed us a little over a week ago. The midweek win against Manchester United went some way to restoring confidence, but most TV pundits, the press and bookies seemed to favour Chelsea, as they were seen to be the top club that can cope with the big events. But why? City were still above them in the League, City had beaten them earlier in the season and Chelsea had suffered a demoralising defeat during the week.

The January defeat of Chelsea by City had probably led to the sacking of Frank Lampard and the introduction of Tommy Tuchel. I do not know whether it is his hair-cut, but he always reminds me of a 1960s Cambridge science post-graduate and his reputation gives the aura of a thinker. He had obviously put some thought into the starting eleven of Chelsea, as he had dropped Chilwell in favour of Alonso and had kept James in defence to monitor Vardy. City’s eleven included Evans who had been a doubt following trouble with a heel injury.

The first quarter of an hour showed that Chelsea wanted to be on the front foot and control the game. They were prominent on the right wing and probably thought they could take advantage of the inexperience of Thomas. Indeed, some early moves showed up gaps in that area and City’s defence had to be quick and alert to the through balls that were being laid on for Werner to chase. The German, though, was not astute enough to get by Söyüncü. The pressure from the Londoners did lead to several corners and these can often be the weak point for City, but they were dealt with comfortably.

City’s first decent attack came when Castaigne was allowed space down the right wing and crossed to Vardy who was waiting on the penalty spot but his effort was blocked by James. It seemed that City’s main strategy was to put a long ball over the top of the Chelsea defence, hoping that Iheanacho or Vardy could run on to it and use it to attack the goal, but the blue line of defence was equal to most of these efforts. Whenever City tried to play the ball on the ground with quick passes, the opposition was ready for this too and would block out the move with superior numbers. Needless to say, Kanté, was as effective as ever in frustrating City’s efforts using this route.

If City did manage to get a ball behind the Chelsea defence, a cynical foul or handball frustrated the City move and any subsequent free kicks were not taken advantage of – Söyüncü heading well wide of the goal.

Chelsea’s best move of the first half came half-way through when Mount, who had been lively throughout, turned Söyüncü too easily outside the penalty area. He had a clear run on goal and shot, but it went just wide of the right post for a corner.

Although Evans had been pronounced fit to play, he only managed half an hour. After a chat with the physio, he limped off and was replaced by Albrighton, who took over the right wing-back position whilst Castaigne slotted into the right side of the back three. I thought this change might unsettle the City defence as it seemed to do in the Newcastle match, but I got the impression that they were more galvanised as if they had a point to prove and City had slightly more possession of the ball for the rest of the half. However, there were too many mistakes by both teams and not much in the way of constructive moves. Fofana and Werner picked up yellow cards within five minutes of one another, probably through frustration.

City started the second half with a little more intent and won their first corner of the game in the 54th minute. More corners and pressure followed until, in the 63rd minute, James tried to ease the situation for Chelsea with a long ball from defence. He did not hit it quite right and Perez blocked it. Thomas picked up the loose ball and passed it to Tielemans who had no one near him. He moved forward with the ball and as he approached the penalty area he hammered it into the top left hand corner of the net. Did no one in the Chelsea camp watch our quarter final game against Manchester United, where Tielemans had an almost identical situation? The Chelsea defence backed off and this gave the Belgian the opportunity to open the scoring. Perhaps there were only 6,000 City fans in the stadium but it sounded like 46,000.

It did not take Brandan Rodgers long to realise that Chelsea would now lay siege in the City half. Maddison had been warming up for about 15 minutes already and he came on in place of Iheanacho after 67 minutes. At the same time Tuchel made up for his earlier defensive approach and brought on Pulisic and Chilwell for Ziyech and Alonso. Shortly after, he exchanged Jorginho and Azpilicueta for Havertz and Hudson-Odoi. The pressure was on City and the traffic was one way. Chilwell, in particular, was becoming a menace – perhaps he had a point to prove. In the 78th minute his header was dropping to the left had corner of the goal, but Schmeichel dived down and palmed it away. The Londoners were desperate to get that equalizer.

Ten minutes from the end, Tuchel made his final change by bringing on Giroud in place of Werner. Rodgers countered this move, by introducing Morgan and Choudhury in place of Thomas and Perez. But the increase in defensive numbers was not enough to stop Chelsea surging forward and in the 87th minute a semi clearance from a cross on the right fell perfectly for Mount to hammer the ball towards goal. Schmeichel then performed one of his best saves that I have seen and turned the ball away from goal, and it flew away to his left.

Chilwell was not satisfied with this attempt and a minute later, with only seconds away from the end of normal time, he ran behind the City defence and met a long ball from Silva. His shot on goal was parried by Schmeichel but bounced against Morgan and into the net. So close to victory and it seemed that City’s dream was broken. But the drama was not over. VAR had to look at the whole move and it was decided that Chilwell started his run a fraction of a second too early and was offside at the time that Silva delivered his pass. The agony and the ecstasy of football were shown in one stroke. “Professor” Tuchel, who during the match had looked first of all pensive, then worried, followed by anger and then frustration, was now disbelieving and distraught.

Five minutes of added time made the tension worse, but Chelsea had run out of steam and were demoralised after the VAR decision. City played out these minutes and could even waste time on a corner. When the final whistle was blown, 6,000 City fans in the stadium and countless others at home and in pub gardens gave an almighty roar. The waiting was over and City had finally won the F.A. Cup.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta (Hudson-Odoi 74), James, Silva, Rüdiger, Kanté, Jorginho (Havertz 74), Alonso (Chilwell 67), Ziyech (Pulisic 67), Mount, Werner (Giroud 81).

Leicester: Schmeichel, Fofana, Evans (Albrighton 31), Söyüncü, Castaigne, Ndidi, Tielemans, Thomas (Morgan 81), Perez (Choudhury 81), Iheanacho (Maddison 67), Vardy.

 Referee: M. Oliver                                          Attendance: 21,000

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation