The FA Cup is Chelsea’s to Lose

Chelsea Conte FA Cup

Following the FA Cup’s quarterfinal action, we’re set for Wembley. And after all that magic—Millwall’s impressive run; two non-league sides reaching the last 16; Wycombe’s inspiring effort at White Hart Lane—we’re left with an all-EPL semi-final. Which means an all-EPL final, for better or worse.

Now maybe it’s not what most of us wanted or even hoped for. But regardless of anyone’s feelings about the FA Cup, that’s what we’re getting. Arsenal versus Manchester City; Chelsea versus Tottenham. So who ya got? On paper it seems quite simple. And the reality might not be that much more difficult either.

Monday afternoon, Chelsea didn’t have to deal with Manchester United at their best. After all, the Red Devils were without Wayne Rooney and Anthony Marital (injury). Moreover, Marcus Rashford was supposed to be out as well (illness), but ended up playing all 90 minutes. Additionally, Zlatan Ibrahimović began serving his three-game suspension following a blatant elbow on Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings.

Of course it didn’t help that within 35 minutes, United went a man down after Ander Herrera picked up his second yellow card. Apparently the ‘kick Eden Hazard to death’ gameplan implemented by José Mourinho didn’t pay off. (Who would’ve thought, right?) Stranger though was that after booking Herrera twice, referee Michael Oliver wouldn’t book another player until minute 79. Three cheers for a lack of consistency!

Looking back, Manchester United may have been fortunate to escape with only three bookings on the afternoon. Regardless, United were awfully toothless even while attempting to attack. And in the end, even when they desperately threw bodies forward, chances—even half-chances—were few and far between.

But for United, it’s not the end of the world. The race for a top-four spot is still relatively open. And winning the Europa League, which would grant them Champions League qualification next season, is much more important.

As for Chelsea, they weren’t at their best Monday afternoon. But that’s the thing: they haven’t always needed to be. Not this season anyway. And, they don’t have any other distractions the rest of the way—assuming they can close out the league, which they currently lead by 10 points.

Tottenham Hotspur, their semi-final opponent, may not have anything but the league to worry about, but we’ve yet to find out how long striker Harry Kane will be out for after suffering an ankle injury against Millwall over the weekend. The early word: it doesn’t look good.

A couple things about that:

  • In their 2-0 victory over Chelsea earlier this season, Kane didn’t contribute to either goal.
  • In their 2-0 victory over Manchester City, arguably their best performance of the season, Kane was out injured—leaving Son Heung-min to start up top.

So yes, Spurs are capable of putting complete performances together without having to rely solely on their superstar striker. Even against the bigger sides. Kane has been in the best form of his career recently, scoring goals for fun. Saying his presence is immense is underselling it.

But that’s not something to get used to. Those performances aren’t what fans should expect. Tottenham will undoubtedly come to play that day, whether it’s with Son, Vincent Janssen or maybe even Dele in a False 9 up top. But it’s difficult to see a way through. This season, Chelsea are just that good. They’re also healthy.

Then there’s Arsenal. Sure the Gunners are out of the UCL, meaning they have only the league (and this cup) to worry about. But there’s the constant ‘Will Arsène Wenger go or won’t he’ distraction now. There’s the feeling that at the moment, a top-four finish is no longer a guarantee. Truth is, we don’t know which Arsenal is going to show up from week to week.

Finally, we’ve got Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who has looked stronger as the season’s gone on. And barring a second-leg collapse—shout out to you, PSG—they’re on their way to the UCL quarterfinals. Their recent scoreless draw against Stoke City aside, the Citizens are starting to string together the type of performances we’ve grown to expect out of a Guardiola-coached side. Currently they find themselves level on points with Spurs, and in third place.

But nobody’s been at the level Chelsea’s been at all season. Even when they’ve stumbled, Antonio Conte has gotten them back on track immediately. They’ve won 21 EPL matches this campaign, four more than the club (Manchester City) with the second-most. They’re unbeaten in their last 11, since Tottenham defeated them at the Lane. Only two of those 11 matches resulted in draws.

Perhaps playing in Europe will stretch the Blues a little thinner next season. Maybe they’ll experience slightly worse injury luck or something. But it just isn’t happening this season. Whatever Antonio Conte can control, he’s controlling—and with a smooth, calculated demeanor to boot. Just as the EPL is Chelsea’s to lose, so is the FA Cup.

Good thing these sorts of things aren’t simply decided on paper.

[FBW]
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