In the Wembley sunshine on Sunday afternoon, Chelsea booked their place in the Emirates FA Cup final after beating Southampton 2-0. Antonio Conte’s side will face Manchester United after the Red Devils came from behind to beat Tottenham 2-1 on Saturday. Goals from Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata after half-time confirmed a comfortable victory in the end.
Blues dominate early but no breakthrough
Right from the start, it looked like Eden Hazard was going to be the man that would provide the magic and his wicked left-footed strike in the first five minutes that flashed just over was the first warning sign. Willian then came even closer just a few moments later, hitting the crossbar from the edge of the box. Then, a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Maya Yoshida stopped Hazard from unleashing a shot from close range.
The Saints were struggling to get out of their half under relentless pressure but the scoreline remained goalless, Giroud’s attempted acrobatic effort provided some entertainment after he had failed to get the desired connection on the original shot. The first-half fizzled out in a contrasting fashion to how it had begun and Mark Hughes’ side were more than fortunate not to have conceded.
Lightning out the blocks
It was only going to be a matter of time until the relegation-threatened side’s defence was breached but no one expected it to be as fast as it was. Less than 30 seconds into the second half, the deadlock was broken. Olivier Giroud evaded three sliding tackles wonderfully inside the six-yard box before stabbing home in front of the Chelsea fans, a goal worthy of opening the scoring in any semi-final clash.
The game exploded into life at this point. Cesc Fabregas timed a tackle perfectly in the penalty area at the other end, allowing his side to break. Willian found Hazard but the Belgium star couldn’t find the far corner of Alex McCarthy’s net. Shane Long missed a huge chance to bring the sides level as he had the freedom of Wembley Stadium to take the ball around Willy Caballero; his touch was horrendously heavy.
With just over 20 minutes left in the contest, Southampton began to finally announce themselves in the game thanks to the introductions of Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond from the bench. The latter let fly from all of 25 yards and Caballero somehow managed to keep it out and after seeing the swerve on the ball, it was a top save. The Argentine nearly committed a howler as he let the ball squirm out of his grasp and over the line, only for the referee to harshly pull it back as a foul.
In the 80th minute, Alvaro Morata replaced Giroud and his impact was instant. Just 90 seconds later, the Spaniard doubled the Blues’ advantage and all-but-confirmed their place in the final. It was a familiar combination that brought the goal after it came from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.
As it had done last time a goal went in, the game became lively again. Charlie Austin almost responded immediately as he hit the post moments before Morata had a chance cleared off the line by Wesley Hoedt. The Chelsea substitute had a third effort, making the exact impact Conte would’ve wanted, but he saw it well stopped by McCarthy.
That was the final real chance of the match and it means that Chelsea can still fight for the Champions League places as well as having a very realistic shot at some silverware. As for Southampton, their focus needed to be on surviving relegation anyway so it’s no bad thing that they were knocked out.