Chelsea triumph to meet their nemesis again
LONDON: Thomas Tuchel hailed Chelsea’s focus and composure as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 on Sunday to earn an FA Cup final showdown with four-time chasers Liverpool.
Tuchel’s side had to work hard to break down Palace’s stubborn resistance in the semi-final at Wembley, but Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s ferocious strike put them on course for a third successive FA Cup final appearance .
Mason Mount put the result beyond doubt with a fine finish, securing Chelsea a date with Liverpool in the final at Wembley on May 14.
This will be Chelsea’s fifth FA Cup final in the past six years as they seek redemption for losing in the showpiece to Arsenal and Leicester in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
It was a welcome tonic after Tuesday’s painful Champions League quarter-final exit at Real Madrid, where the Blues scored three times to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit before going out after extra time.
“I thought the performance was very controlled and very serious. It was hard, the opponent changed their system twice, but we took care of their counter-attacks, ”said Tuchel.
“It was very difficult physically and mentally. We are the team with the most minutes in Europe.
Tuchel has won the Champions League, Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup under his rule, but he is yet to lead Chelsea to a domestic trophy.
With three consortia vying to buy Chelsea following British government sanctions against Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich following the invasion of Ukraine, the Blues could have a new owner by the time they return to Wembley.
Beating Palace are keeping them in contention to end a troubled season with silverware, although Liverpool, who beat Premier League leaders Manchester City 3-2 in Saturday’s semi-final, will provide much tougher opposition.
The Reds have already beaten Chelsea in the League Cup final on penalties this season and Tuchel knows how difficult it will be to avenge that loss.
“We will be well prepared because we are up against one of the best teams in the world. They are in exceptional form. It will be another tough fight,” he said.
“I don’t care what trophies they try to win. We had the misfortune to lose on penalties in the Coupe de la Ligue.
“We will try to make it difficult for them. It’s incredibly hard to beat them. But that’s what a cup final is for. We need everything at the highest level.
Palace boss Patrick Vieira added: “In the first half we frustrated them a lot. Against these teams, it is a question of taking a chance. We didn’t and they did.
Facing a Palace side fierce in tackling and well drilled in their low defensive block, Chelsea struggled to assert themselves.
It took 25 minutes for Tuchel’s men to muster a chance and even then Kai Havertz’s looping header was easy for Palace keeper Jack Butland.
They lost Mateo Kovacic to injury moments later, with Loftus-Cheek featured against the side he once played for on loan.
Palace were almost rewarded for their gritty display just before half-time.
Cheikhou Kouyate’s strike from the edge of the box was saved by Edouard Mendy and Joachim Andersen slammed the rebound against the post from close range.
Chelsea had more possession in the second half, although Kouyate moved closer again, heading narrowly wide from Eberechi Eze’s corner.
To their credit, Chelsea never lost patience and they finally took the lead with their second shot on target in the 65th minute.
Loftus-Cheek picked out Havertz in the palace area and the German returned a pass to midfield, who delivered a superb shot past Butland from 12 yards out.
Chelsea finally had a spring in their step and Mount finished off Palace in the 76th minute, taking Timo Werner’s pass in his stride before heading home. -AFP