Let’s face it, most people would have probably expected Jose Mourinho to continue his great record in cup finals when his Manchester United side took on Chelsea in the FA Cup final at the weekend.
Prior to this game, Mourinho had overseen 14 major finals, being victorious on 12 occasions, and with Chelsea enduring a difficult campaign where they failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League, it was hard to see past a Manchester United win.
However, things really didn’t go as expected, in more ways than one, as Antonio Conte’s Chelsea managed to win the FA Cup thanks to an Eden Hazard penalty in the 22nd minute, which saw them win the game 1-0. While it was a great result for Chelsea, and Conte, you could say that in many respects the result wasn’t the only talking point, with Jose Mourinho levelling criticism at Chelsea’s performance claiming they didn’t deserve to win the trophy and he also accused them of “defending with nine players.”
During the game, Chelsea did at times park the bus, which in many respects is very Jose Mourinho-esque. Conte set his team up playing their usual three centre-back system, but ahead of them in midfield, both N’Golo Kante and Timoue Bakayoko played, who you would class as defensive-minded midfielders. However, what Chelsea did really well, much to the dismay of Mourinho, was they brought men back behind the ball when Manchester United was on the attack.
The first reason for this is probably due to the fact that Manchester United had a plethora of attacking talent in their starting line-up. Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford all started the game for United and even in just those four players, there is an incredible amount of pace and power. By bringing players back behind the ball, you’re going to make them less effective, with United failing to register a single shot on target in the first half.
What also worked really well for Chelsea in their tactical set up was the inclusion of Eden Hazard but in a more advanced role. What the Belgian does superbly, and did superbly, was carry the ball quickly up the pitch, allowing Chelsea to break at pace. This was highly effective, especially as Manchester United went in search of an equaliser after the break. It was in fact Hazard who won the penalty which he went on to convert to secure victory after a deep pass by Cesc Fabregas released Hazard whose pace caused Phil Jones a whole world at problems.
When Fabregas played the ball forward looking for Hazard to latch onto it, Chelsea had every player back in their own half, apart from Olivier Giroud, and this proved to be an effective tactic throughout. Mourinho may have criticised Chelsea following their victory, but he too himself has used this approach many times successfully, and for once had a taste of his own medicine perhaps.