Weblog: The football punter

Chelsea can give Conte a perfect send-off in final

FA Cup final
BBC1 & BT Sport 2, 5.15pm 

Prince Harry opted not to choose former girlfriend Chelsy Davy but FA Cup finals punters should pick Chelsea in order to kick off their own celebrations.

Antonio Conte's second season at Stamford Bridge has been a massive anti-climax but he can sign off by leading the Blues to victory over Manchester United at Wembley.

Conte has not experienced a trophyless campaign in club management since 2010-11 when he steered Siena to second place in Serie B.

The FA Cup final is likely to be his last hurrah at Chelsea and the Londoners are set to go off as outsiders against a United team who finished three places and 11 points above them in the Premier League.

Neither side have played well recently. Chelsea's push for a top-four finish came to a grisly end last week as they drew 1-1 at home to Huddersfield and lost 3-0 at Newcastle.

But United have been playing poorly for longer and haven't given their fans anything to shout about since defeating Tottenham 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-finals.

United backers will point to former Blues boss Jose Mourinho's track record of getting his teams up for the big games.

And there were two good examples in April with the stunning 3-2 success at Manchester City and their Wembley win over Spurs.

But they made slow starts and fell behind in both of those matches and can ill-afford something similar against Chelsea, who are likely to be much more switched on than they were at Newcastle.

Mourinho is expected to recall Romelu Lukaku, who has returned to full training after an ankle injury.

But the big Belgian hasn't played for almost three weeks and is unlikely to be fully match fit.

Without him United have found it really tough. Against a second string Arsenal last month they scrambled over the line 2-1 with a late Marouane Fellaini header.

Three poor performances have followed - a 1-0 loss to Brighton, a 0-0 draw at West Ham and a 1-0 success at home to Watford.

Without Lukaku there was a responsibility on United's other star players to step up. But Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez have been well below their best and United need more from them if they are to rise to the occasion at Wembley.

United have remained solid at the back and their defensive record of 28 Premier League goals conceded in 38 games commands respect.

Chelsea shipped 38 league goals, only five more than in their 2016-17 title-winning campaign, but the main difference has been in attack with the Blues scoring 62, a drop of 23 from the season before.

Diego Costa, their top scorer from last season, has been sorely missed and star man Eden Hazard has been less consistent.

However, Olivier Giroud has been a success since his January switch from Arsenal and Willian has excelled when given the chance.

The concern for Chelsea fans is that Willian's relationship with Conte appears strained and there may have been an impact on selection with the Brazilian having started just one of the last four games.

Willian was named on the bench at Newcastle last Sunday and was introduced in the 77th minute with the Blues trailing 3-0.

It might have done him a favour to not be associated with such a poor performance.

Conte's problems with man-management have been a feature of his tenure with Costa and David Luiz finding themselves frozen out.

And it may be the case that Chelsea's drop in standards (their points tally has slipped from 93 to 70) has something to do with the players not fighting as hard for their manager.

However, motivation should not be in question for an FA Cup final and there will be some players desperate to give Conte a winning send-off.

Between mid-April and early May Chelsea won five games in succession, their best run of the season. If they get back to those standards, they will be tough to stop.

Chelsea to lift the trophy

The Football Site

Like on Facebook

Google +1


Match in Focus

19:45 Fr 19Oct SKY

Sheff Wed v Middlesbro

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Middlesbrough have won four of their last five meetings with Sheffield Wednesday
Expert verdict
No side has shipped fewer goals in the Championship than Middlesbrough this term and their defensive resolve can give them the edge against playoff hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday. Tony Pulis’s team have lost just once on the road this season and the Owls are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league.