The first FA Cup Final to grace the turf of the new Wembley Stadium pits the new league champions against the deposed title holders, first against second, and “the special one” against the greatest British manager ever.
The last time these sides met in a final was in 1994 when Man Utd came out 4-0 winners, a game memorable for Eric Cantona becoming the first foreign player to score two penalties in a final. The match also saw United claim their first ever double. If they win this one that tally will be improved to four.
This time don’t expect the score line to be as one sided. United are riding a wave of euphoria, having won their first title in four seasons, and having it described by their manager, as well as many others, as their greatest achievement yet. Over hauling a Chelsea side that has been so dominant in the last couple of years, with the seemingly endless resources at their disposal, financially and otherwise, was a stunning return to form for the dominant team of the Premier League era, and one that should not be underestimated. They will be hoping that the spirit running through their ranks with this win will be enough to carry them across the finish line one last time this season. They will also be reminded that they can not afford a repeat performance of that against AC Milan in the Champions League semi finals, where 90 minutes away from a final, they seemed to be over whelmed by a majestic Milan that simply blew them away. They will also need not be reminded that any chance to inflict another blow on Chelsea, one that will carry great confidence into the new season, and may importantly play a role in the transfer market, with players choosing United over Chelsea, is a chance that may not come about to often. A chance that must be taken.
For Chelsea, amongst all the grumblings about an injury crisis being rained out by their manager, about not having 16 fit players for the final, about having to employ the 3rd choice keeper as a make shift forward, about losing the title, about the special one’s dog, and all others, this remains an opportunity to take something tangible from this season. A season that saw the power struggle between manager and owner being played out in public, that saw expensive flops not taking responsibility for their part in a lack lustre season, and that ultimately saw a team chasing an unprecedented quadruple, now on the verge of just a League Cup triumph. This remains the only domestic trophy that Jose Morinho has not managed to get his hands on, and for that, and to try and dispel the theories that United are on the rise again, and Chelsea on the decline, Chelsea can not be counted out of this one.
United have been the attacking force this season, playing the type of football that has made them the worlds most supported team. They have won the most matches, scored the most goals, and have had the most entertaining players in Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. They have been revitalised by the experienced Giggs and Scholes, and have found defensive solidity in Vidic, Ferdinand and Van der Saar. Chelsea, although flagging of late, seeming to be playing on tired legs, will be driven by Terry, Lampard, the tireless Essien, and the magnificent Drogba. These games tend to be cagey ones, with neither side wanting to make the mistake that could cost them the match, and so tend to be boring when the two teams are somewhat evenly matched, as is the case here. This could hurt United’s attacking instinct and play into the hands of the more cautious Chelsea style. However with the confidence injected into the legs of the United players, on the back of their league triumph, and the tired, jaded look of the Chelsea legs, this match may be one to many for Chelsea, and just the right amount for United. A United victory is my prediction – but a close one.