If this was to be Antonio Conte’s final match in charge of Chelsea, this was a pretty good way to bow out. Banishing the demons from last year’s defeat against Arsenal in the FA Cup final, Chelsea put on a determined performance to see off Manchester United by the score of 1-0, thanks to a first-half penalty from Eden Hazard.
Few were expecting this to be a thrilling, end-to-end contest of attacking football, and it largely lived up to the expectations of those expecting a cagey affair.
As has been the case with Chelsea under Conte and United under Jose Mourinho, matches between these two clubs often take on a distinct Italian flare, tending to be more fascinating tactical battles. This one was no different.
Conte had sent his side out in a 3-5-2 so that Chelsea would not be outnumbered in midfield, and Mourinho, as he has so often, sent Ander Herrera on a sole mission to man-mark Hazard.
Ironically, though, it was Chelsea that settled into their rhythm much quicker than United, and Hazard registered the first real shot on target after Phil Jones gave the ball away in midfield. Tiemoue Bakayoko sent Hazard racing down the left, and with the angle tightening as he approached the goal, he forced a good save from David de Gea at his near post.
Jones was given a warning from Hazard on that move, and 10 minutes later had clearly not heeded that warning. Cesc Fabregas picked Hazard with a long pass down the right that caught Jones out of position. Hazard’s first touch beat Jones to the inside. As Hazard raced through on goal, Jones last-ditch effort was ill-timed, and Michael Oliver had no choice but to point to the spot.
Hazard picked himself up and calmly passed the ball into the corner of the net with de Gea diving the wrong way.
Conte and the Chelsea players were incensed that Jones was only shown a yellow card, but Oliver was correct, as Jones had made a clear attempt to play the ball.
Both teams continued to cancel each other out in midfield, but just before the break, United finally found a chance to counter attack. Paul Pogba found space to drive at the Chelsea defence, finding Alexis Sanchez wide before retrieving the return pass just at the edge of the area. Marcus Rashford was lurking at the penalty spot, but he miskicked his shot just enough for Antonio Rüdiger to clear before the half-time whistle.
United came out of the dressing room clearly energised and with more attacking intent. Too often in the first half United’s attackers would come looking for the ball to feet. But at the start of the second half, they began to try and get behind the Chelsea defence, as Chelsea started to sit deeper in their own half.
Rashford forced a smart reaction save from Thibault Courtois after Antonio Valencia found him just outside the box with a pull back for their first real sight of goal.
Moments later, Alexis Sanchez put the ball in the net after Courtois had to claw away a header from Jones that was heading for the bottom right. But the linesman disallowed the goal for offside, and after a quick check with VAR, the decision stood.
Chelsea nearly scored a second when N’Golo Kante drove the ball through midfield and found Marcos Alonso free on his right. But Alonso took a bit too long before shooting, and de Gea charged down the shot.
In the ensuing battle for the loose ball, Victor Moses’ attempted flick past Ashley Young clipped Young’s arm. But Oliver decided not to give a penalty, and VAR saw no reason to disagree.
United finally were able to get behind the Chelsea defence when Jesse Lingard found Rashford just on the shoulder of Rudiger. Rashford powered his way into the box, but Courtois stood tall and got Rashford’s attempted lob with his shoulder.
Pogba should have brought United level with minutes left in the match when he found himself completely unmarked from a corner. Standing on the penalty spot, Pogba rose to the meet the ball, but somehow managed to head the ball wide with no one around him.
Chelsea did their best to kill off the match, but Nemanja Matic had one last chance from United when he rose to meet Valencia’s cross from the right. Matic could only manage to head the ball over.
Despite the disappointing season for Chelsea, another piece of silverware is placed in the trophy cabinet. At least it gives supporters optimism for next season.