cHelsea has been through the turbulent final months of the Roman Abramovich era and will be looking to start a new one with the FA Cup double. The men’s and women’s teams will be at Wembley this weekend, hoping to return the titles to Stamford Bridge to finish the season at a much-needed high.
Thomas Tuchel’s side did not live up to Chelsea’s expectations in August. After winning the Champions League and investing heavily in Romelu Lukaku, the manager and fans were hoping for even greater success. They lost in the Carabao Cup final to Saturday’s rival, Liverpool, and revenge would be sweet. Potential new owners will want to spend money on players, and the club will be a much more attractive option with another trophy in the treasury.
The uncertainty surrounding Chelsea had an impact on the men’s team. Players want certainty to help them focus on the pitch. Seeing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen unable to discuss new contracts, with the German set to join Real Madrid, is causing turmoil. Chelsea’s success last season was built on defensive solidity, so the prospect of losing a central defender will worry many.
However, not everything can be blamed on the contracts. In the past few weeks the errors that led to the goals were uncharacteristic. The reason may be fatigue because they played a lot of games last season and this, and the team may need to rejuvenate to motivate the players.
Tuchel passed the situation admirably. He wanted to get close to Manchester City and Liverpool, but it is difficult to compete against two teams that have been flawless for so long. He’s almost certainly in the Champions League next season, which is a must.
The victory on Elland Road on Wednesday shows there is merit in canceling the team’s day off to hold talks with players after the Wolverhampton draw. It was a case of risk versus reward. It is clear that they did not play well and this improvement will help the team to play its remaining big game. If something as important as the FA Cup is at stake, it is worth clearing the air. Whether it’s discussing the positives or the household facts, getting things off your chest can help de-stress.
Emma Hayes’ side will see Wembley beat Manchester City as the Cherries are on the cake. There is something special about this group. They had to give everything in the Women’s Premier League until the last minute to secure their third consecutive title. For months they’ve known that any gaffe could give Arsenal the edge, which would focus minds when issues surrounding the club could be a distraction.
Arsenal did not drop a point from the beginning of March until the end of the season. Although this kind of threat keeps the mind sharp, it would also have left players mentally exhausted at this point. Hayes knows how and when to get the most out of her players, so you won’t have to worry about extending the season for another week.
Chelsea would be confident going into the final, but I’m imagining Manchester City, which I know sounds really weird. They will have less pressure recently, although they have had to fight for their place in the Champions League. They were comfortable in the end because of the way they played. They won their last nine league games, scored for fun and everyone was scoring goals.
Chelsea had the experience of winning last season’s Cup last December, but City beat them in the Continental Cup final in March. I think City will dominate the ball and they’ve been fantastic since February, really starting once they get their best players back.
But Chelsea always causes problems for opponents. They have the brilliance of Sam Kerr and as we saw in last season’s Cup final against Arsenal, they are very good at transitions and direct balls over the top.
The big test for Chelsea this week is to recover from such an emotional day last Sunday when they beat Manchester United to win the title. Hayes is a staunch advocate of recovery, sometimes more than just training himself. The players looked nervous against United in the first half and even though they passed the test and were the better team in the second half, there was a 45-minute period where I didn’t recognize them. I don’t think that will be the case again at Wembley.
The main players will be leaving the men’s and women’s teams this summer. The women handled better the idea that Ji So-yun and Drew Spence would leave because they still had the backbone of their team, while the men could lose 33% of their defense. Teams will have extra motivation to make sure all of these players leave in high gear after all they’ve done for the club.
There should be no distractions during the weekend. Focusing on the crucial 180 minutes can be a stepping stone to greater success next season. The teams have done a very good job of getting this far under the circumstances. Now it’s time to finish the job.