Chelsea advanced to consecutive FA cup finals after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley on Sunday.
After meeting each other in the league a week before, this match was very different to the 2-3 away win we recorded at St Mary’s. One similarity was the formations both teams started with. Antonio Conte opting for the tried and trusted 3-4-3, and as in the league match, Mark Hughes matched this with his side. Although our shape was the same, the personnel was slightly changed from the league encounter the week before. Caballero started in goal, as he has done throughout the cup run, while Emerson played at right wing back as in the win at Burnley on Thursday. Another change was Giroud starting as the centre-forward between Hazard and Willian. Excellent in his thirty-minute cameo on the south coast the week before, he had earned a starting place.
The first half produced very few chances, as both sides cancelled each other out. Chelsea enjoyed most of the ball, but a well organised Southampton forced us sideways for most the half as we struggled to break down their deep lying defence. We came closest with a Willian strike against the top of the bar as he cut back onto his left foot after finding himself on the end of a Hazard through ball from a rare break. Later in the half Giroud attempted an acrobatic volley that flew wide, but it was well and truly a stalemate at the end of the half.
The second half saw a marked difference though, mainly thanks to our early breakthrough which was the turning point in the match. Hazard brought down a ball forward, and played through Giroud, who brilliantly touched the ball between two sliding Southampton defenders, before diverting past keeper McCarthy. Just the start to the half we needed.
Southampton now had no option but to come out, and they created the next good chance after a Bertrand ball forward was dummied by Hoejbjerg, which resulted in Long going clear as he ran onto it, but his first touch as he tried to round Caballero was to heavy, and the ball ran through for a goal kick.
Conte decided to change tack with half an hour remaining, replacing Willian with Bakayoko to change to the shape to 3-5-2. Southampton stayed with 3-4-3, but Tadic and Redmond entered the fray in wide areas to aid their creativity.
Chances were more forthcoming now in a much more open second half. Redmond cut in and shot low forcing Caballero into a save to his right, perhaps luckily it ricocheted of his leg and went behind for a corner. Chelsea were now making good use of space in front of the Southampton defence, and occasionally stretching them in behind now, particularly after winning the ball in transition. Hazard, having a lot of influence for Chelsea, got between the lines to run at the opposition area, his shot from the edge of the box tipped over the top by McCarthy. Hazard was again the creator after firing a ball across the box which was fired against Yoshida by Bednarek, and almost ended up in the net.
Conte made further changes inside the last fifteen minutes, keeping the same shape, but replacing Fabregas with Pedro, who played in the midfield three as at Burnley. Morata replaced Giroud with ten minutes left and had a succession of chances fall his way. The first one came as it so often has for him this season, via the boot of Cesar Azpilicueta. It was a copybook Azpi to Morata goal. Deep cross from the right headed in nicely at the back post.
The Saints nearly got back in it shortly after, when a diagonal ball found Austin, who shot on the stretch. It went across goal and had Caballero beaten but came back off the far post.
Morata nearly added another shortly after, when Hazard got in behind a stretched Southampton backline down the left. His cut back found Morata, but his shot was blocked on the line.
McCarthy made a good save from another Morata chance, but it was game over for Southampton by now.
Chelsea will play Manchester United in the final on the 19th of May. The last meeting between these two in the FA Cup final was eleven years ago in the first final at the new Wembley. Drogba scored in extra time to see us lift the trophy. We will need a different hero this time, but on current form you would not bet against it being another French-speaking centre-forward, although this one wears number eighteen.
Chelsea (3-4-3) 2 Giroud 46, Morata 82
Caballero; Azpilicueta, Cahill (c), Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas (Pedro 75), Emerson; Willian (Bakayoko 62), Giroud (Morata 79), Hazard.
Southampton (3-5-2) 0
McCarthy; Hoedt, Yoshida, Bednarek (Gabbiadini 77); Cedric, Romeu, Hojbjerg (Tadic 62), Lemina, Bertrand (c); Austin, Long (Redmond 62).