Hazard the hero as Chelsea hold firm to win FA Cup

Sunday, May 20, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 to lift the FA Cup, thanks to Eden Hazard's penalty at Wembley yesterday which salvaged a disappointing season.

In what is still widely expected to be Chelsea Manager Antonio Conte's final game in charge, the Blues withstood a second-half onslaught from United after Hazard's 22nd-minute spotkick to ensure Jose Mourinho's men end the season trophyless.

On a day when the world's eyes were on a royal wedding 18 miles west in Windsor, Chelsea reigned on the field to salvage a campaign in which they failed to even qualify for the Champions League, after finishing fifth in the Premier League.

“This was to save our season; we haven't had a magnificent season by any stretch,” said Chelsea captain Gary Cahill.

“We are used to winning; I'm not saying that in an arrogant way.

“We had a lot of defending to do [because] they pushed us until the very end. We are buzzing. We got the job done.”

And should it prove to be Conte's last game in charge, the Italian bowed out on a high, as his decision to start first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the first time in the FA Cup this season over Willy Caballero was justified by a series of saves from the Belgian to keep United at bay after the break.

“Every defeat hurts, but for me personally the one that hurts less is when you give everything and go without any regrets,” said Mourinho. “I prefer to lose like today.”

United were without top scorer Romelu Lukaku from the start as the Belgian was only fit enough for a place on the bench against his former club due to an ankle injury.

“I knew without a target man (it) would be difficult for us,” added Mourinho.

“When a player tells you he is not ready to play, not ready to start, then the question is how many minutes you think you can? How can you convince a player?”

Lukaku's presence was missed as Chelsea settled quickest, with Hazard particularly lively in the space between the United defence and midfield.

The diminutive Belgian threatened first when he burst past Phil Jones, only to see a fiercely-struck low effort parried by the legs of David de Gea.

Hazard's next break proved decisive as he took advantage of more indecision by Jones to race clear on goal before being chopped down by the England defender as he prepared to shoot.

Chelsea players and Conte argued for a red card rather than yellow, but Jones' attempt to play the ball saved him from a dismissal.

Hazard dusted himself down to coolly send De Gea the wrong way from the spot for his 18th goal, of the season.

The lack of invention that Mourinho's side have been routinely criticised for throughout the campaign showed in their efforts to get back on terms.

Jones had United's best chance of the first half but headed wide at the back post as he tried to make amends for his earlier error.

Marcus Rashford also failed to make the most of a rare start as a central striker in Lukaku's absence.

Courtois wasn't called into action until just before the hour mark, when Rashford stung his palms as United dominated the second half.

The Chelsea keeper then made a brilliant stop low to his left to parry an acrobatic Pogba effort, and Alexis Sanchez was denied a ninth goal in as many appearances at Wembley when he was flagged offside after firing the rebound into the roof of the net.

At the other end, De Gea kept United alive by saving from Marcos Alonso, and Ashley Young was lucky to avoid conceding a second penalty when Alonso's cross came off his arm.

Rashford's biggest and last chance to make himself a hero came 20 minutes from time when Courtois rushed from his goal to make a brilliant save from the forward's attempted chip.

Mourinho reacted by hooking Rashford and Jesse Lingard for Lukaku and Anthony Martial.

But it was Pogba who had the biggest chance to level when the 89-million midfielder headed wide from a corner eight minutes from time.

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