Chelsea are through to the FA Cup final for the fourth time in five seasons courtesy of Hakim Ziyech’s well-worked second-half goal and a superb collective effort throughout.
The Blues were thoroughly good value for the victory having shown the greater ambition when the game was goalless, and limited the Premier League leaders to very little.
The winning goal was worthy of the occasion. Immaculately-weighted left-footed passes from first Mason Mount and then Timo Werner presented Ziyech with a chance he couldn’t miss. It was a similar trick to the one we pulled out of the hat against Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge a month ago.
Defensively Chelsea were outstanding throughout, keeping our freescoring opponents at arm’s length. Kepa in goal had very little to do.
Thomas Tuchel will be the first German to manage in an FA Cup final, and he can enjoy a deserved first success over Pep Guardiola. But what will delight him most is the performance of his players today having asked them to show they could ‘close the gap’ to Manchester City over 90 minutes. They answered those demands, and how.
FA Cup ever-present Kepa was once again named in goal. The other two changes to the midweek starting XI were in attack, as Ziyech and Werner came in for Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz. What a decision that proved! Billy Gilmour was named on the bench but Tammy Abraham was not.
A 15th FA Cup final in Chelsea’s history awaits next month as Tuchel celebrates a magnificent victory
Guardiola made eight alterations to his Man City side, with only Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias and Rodrigo retaining their places from the win in Dortmund.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence to remember His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on the day of his funeral, and then in the spring sunshine we were up and running at the national stadium.
After a cagey start, we exploited space behind City’s high line twice in quick succession. Ziyech had the ball in the net from Werner’s pass but the German was offside, and then a Ben Chilwell cross was cleared from inside the six-yard box. The other wing-back, Reece James, tested Zack Steffen with a delivery of his own.
The first action of note for Kepa was a comfortable save from Gabriel Jesus in the 10th minute.
Displaying assurance and dynamism in possession and intensity without it, Chelsea were playing really well. A fine Ziyech pass released James down the right and his pinpoint cross found Chilwell, whose first-time volley unfortunately lacked the precision of the build-up.
Mason Mount twice carried the ball forward from midfield with purpose if not a meaningful outcome, and twice Fernandinho was perhaps fortunate to avoid a yellow card for fouls on the Chelsea midfielder. That would eventually come in the second half.
Werner shot from a tight angle and was denied by a crucial Aymeric Laporte block shortly after the half-hour, and James curled wide from range as we sought to convert our relative dominance into something more tangible.
Before the game Tuchel had urged his team to play with courage and conviction. They had certainly done that in the first 45, even if it was Chelsea’s opponents who finished the half the stronger with Fernandinho heading wide.
A couple of minutes after the restart, De Bruyne was injured and replaced by Phil Foden.
Then came the breakthrough with 10 minutes of the second period played. Werner had been loitering with intent on the cusp of City’s high line without reward, but he got the precise pass he was looking for from Mount.
Steffen raced out of his goal and helped make Werner’s mind up for him. A simple square pass found Ziyech, who slid the ball into the empty net. The goal bore plenty of similarities to his recent effort against Atletico Madrid.
Ziyech almost instantly doubled his and Chelsea tally. Chilwell’s long pass was perfect and Ziyech was away, but this time Steffen redeemed himself to block the shot. The Moroccan pounded the turf in frustration.
With 20 minutes left Chelsea were nearly punished for that miss, Ruben Dias heading a presentable opening well over when the Blues switched off from a corner. Tuchel immediately made his first change, bringing Pulisic on for the excellent Mount.
City began to pin us back but Chelsea counter-attacking threat meant the Blues remained a major threat. On one such occasion Werner dribbled from well inside Chelsea half before forcing Steffen to save. That was his last involvement before Havertz replaced him. Emerson came on for Ziyech at the same time to help shore things up.
Thiago Silva had been feeling his back throughout and needed replacing by Kurt Zouma with three minutes left on the clock.
An additional five were added to the 90 and in that time Pulisic scored superbly, only to be denied by the offside flag. With seconds left, Kepa had to push a Rodrigo header wide but the Blues dug deep to earn a mighty impressive victory.