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Chelsea look to finish the season as FA cup champs

Chelsea vs Man Utd: Last chance at some measure of pride for ailing Blues

May 16, 2018 By Michelle Bonsu
Chelsea have had a frustrating season, but could at least clinch the FA Cup - at Jose Mourinho's expense. Can Antonio Conte at least conclude the term with one piece of silverware?

What a difference 12 months can make.

A year ago, Antonio Conte was celebrating winning his first ever Premier League title in his debut campaign. The Italian tactician had shown that he wasn't a one-trick pony and could certainly replicate the same kind of success that had earned him the attention of clubs across Europe after doing well with Juventus in his native country.

Despite failing to make inroads in European competition, Conte had helped the Bianconeri become a force to be reckoned with in Italy. Juventus had struggled to re-establish themselves after being relegated to Serie B following the calciopoli scandal just before the 2006 World Cup, but under Conte's tenure, had returned to the pinnacle of Serie A, winning three consecutive Scudetti before he departed to manage the Italian national team in 2014.

Conte enjoyed a successful spell with Juventus before trying his hand as manager of the Azzurri prior to arriving in London in 2016

But doing well in Italy doesn't guarantee success in another league, especially not in the Premier League, widely described as the most difficult footballing league in the world due to its unpredictable nature.

Translating success: Much easier said than done

When Conte arrived, he inherited a Chelsea squad that had finished in a disappointing 10th. Turmoil was the order of the day at Stamford Bridge after Jose Mourinho's abrupt departure, and while Guus Hiddink had attempted to right the wobbly ship, stories of player dissent were rife in the press.

Meanwhile, Leicester City had managed to sneak by unnoticed to shock all of English football and win the league title.

His job was simple: To turn things around - fast - and stop the rapid downward slide to help the Blues re-claim their spot among the top four.

Well, Conte did even better than that, steering the London side to the league title. Only a handful of managers have done that in their debut season.

Conte wrote his name into the history books by leading Chelsea to the league title in his first-ever season in charge

Along the way, Chelsea also equaled some records, including: consecutive wins in a season (13), fewest draws in a season (3),  home and away wins against different sides (12), and fewest home draws in a season (0). They also set the records for most wins in a season (30) and recorded the second-highest number of points in a Premier League campaign.

The case of the sophomore slump

However, things haven't gone Conte's way during his second season. Chelsea got back into the Champions League, but ended up finishing second in their group behind surprise group winners Roma. As a result, they ended up with a bad draw against none other than Barcelona, which effectively ended their European ambitions before they even started.

Conte's bad relationship with key man Diego Costa saw the star striker depart for Atletico Madrid mid-way during the current campaign, while Alvaro Morata, the player brought into replace him, has struggled for consistency in his first season in England. Morata had been a player Conte had wanted at Juventus but never had a chance to work with as Conte left before Morata arrived from Real Madrid, and unfortunately, the Spaniard has not paid dividends on the massive investment Chelsea spent to acquire his services, which is another reported black mark in Conte's corner.

They also lost to Arsenal in the EFL Cup (and in the Community Shield), thus missing two chances to pick up some trophies. And along the way in the Premier League, vital points were dropped along the way, thus misisng out on a chance to earn a top four spot. By the time the dust settled, Chelsea were in a position such that even winning the FA Cup wouldn't provide any respite, and the Blues will now come into this game having suffered a humiliating 3-0 loss to Newcastle United.

Was the writing on the wall, though? The Blues opened up their campaign with a shocking 3-2 home loss to Burnley - not exactly the best way to begin one's title defense.

One thing is certain, though: It was a major case of a sophomore slump that Chelsea never seemed to wake up from, and Conte is certain to pay the price for it, regardless of whether the Blues win the FA Cup on Saturday or not.

So do they have anything to play for then?

Certainly. Pride and bragging rights. Plus, many of Chelsea's players are heading to the World Cup next, and having lost to Newcastle, will want to build up some positive momentup ahead of their next big tournament. Arsenal, with 13 titles, are the most decorated side in this competition. Should Manchester United, who have 12, manage to win it, they will be tied with the Gunners. Chelsea, so far, have won it 7 times, but haven't won it since 2012, when they beat Liverpool 2-1.

Having lost the 2017 final to Arsenal 2-1, this is also a great chance at redemption for the Blues. The last time Chelsea faced Manchester United in a FA Cup final was back in 2007, when a solitary goal from Didier Drogba was enough to decide proceedings, in front of a crowd of nearly 90,000 at the brand-new Wembley Stadium.

Manchester United, meanwhile, will be featuring in the Champions League. Chelsea, will have to settle for the Europa League. Nonetheless, the Blues will love nothing but to spoil things for Jose Mourinho and his side in the last game of the 2017/2018 Premier League season, and although it's certain to be Conte's final game in charge, he obviously will want to sign off with another trophy in his cabinet.

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