Chelsea 2-0 Crystal Palace: ‘Blues again show ability to thrive amid chaos’
Chelsea may have a new name above the door at Stamford Bridge in the coming weeks but some things never change, and they delivered the evidence once more by beating Crystal Palace to reach their third successive FA Cup final.
In recent years, Chelsea have been the exception to the often-quoted rule that stability sustains success, a consistent supply of silverware arriving in west London despite regular managerial changes and expensive shifts in personnel.
Chelsea have shown a remarkable ability to defy the game’s natural laws, thriving amid what the outside world deemed as chaos, buffeted by the sort of turbulence usually associated with crisis.
It has not mattered whether the club was undergoing seismic change on or off the pitch – and occasionally both – as Chelsea have a winning mentality that appears able to overcome all obstacles.
The classic example was the interim tenure of Roberto di Matteo, appointed after the failure of Andre Villas-Boas, going on to win the FA Cup and Champions League in 2012. Of course, this being Chelsea, he was sacked six months after getting the job permanently.
This time, the uncertainty hanging over Stamford Bridge is caused by sanctions taken against owner Roman Abramovich for alleged links to Russian president Vladimir Putin, which have threatened to wreak financial havoc on Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel demonstrated he was fit for all that managing Chelsea brings when he succeeded sacked Frank Lampard in January 2021 and navigated a way to winning the Champions League.
In the current climate Tuchel has remained a calm figurehead for Chelsea, and they showed commendable powers of recovery to shake off the bitter disappointment of losing their Champions League crown after an epic quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu when they threatened to overturn a 3-1 lead from the first game.
And now, after taking Chelsea to the FA Cup final last season, when they lost to Leicester City, and a victorious Champions League final against Manchester City, Tuchel has followed up reaching the Carabao Cup final this term by setting up another meeting with Liverpool back at Wembley in May.
Chelsea and Tuchel have two ghosts to lay to rest.
They have lost their two previous FA Cup finals, the first under Lampard to Arsenal, and will now set sights on a measure of revenge against Liverpool after losing on penalties in the EFL Cup final.
It is only the second time the same sides have met in the two major domestic finals since 1993, when Arsenal were twice winners against Sheffield Wednesday.
There may be a group of new owners jostling for position to succeed Abramovich at Stamford Bridge, but whoever eventually moves into the boardroom will look down and see a Chelsea side with a familiar look and feel.
Doubts remain over the future of some players, with Andreas Christensen on his way to Barcelona and both Antonio Rudiger and long-serving captain Cesar Azpilicueta touted with moves away at the end of their contracts.
Romelu Lukaku still looks every inch a £97.5m failure, not even considered for the starting line-up against Palace and somehow striking an upright when it seemed easier to score after he was introduced by Tuchel.
These are all matters for another day as, typically, Chelsea set these uncertainties to one side to rumble on.
They still possess a core of steely professionalism, an ability to get the job done. Once they took control at the start of the second half they never let it go and there was only one winner once Ruben Loftus-Cheek put them ahead, a fact confirmed by Mason Mount’s second that saw off any remaining Palace hopes of meeting Liverpool in the final.
The Abramovich era was famed for the big buys that changed the face of English football, but here were two graduates from a Chelsea academy carefully nurtured during his time at the club making the difference.
It made the difference for Palace, too.
Conor Gallagher, such a success on loan at Palace from Chelsea that he has played for England, was ruled out against his parent club under the terms of the deal – and how manager Patrick Vieira missed his exuberance, skill and creativity as his side strived to break through.
It was cruel on Palace and Gallagher, but rules are rules and Chelsea were glad of them.
Marc Guehi, another from Chelsea’s academy, has excelled to such an extent at Palace that he has also represented England. He was impressive again here.
Those remaining at Chelsea have what currently ranks among the game’s most onerous tasks, namely finding a way to beat Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool as they try to add the FA Cup to the EFL Cup.
Liverpool are attempting to make history by also winning the Champions League, with a semi-final against Villarreal to come, and the Premier League as they do battle with Manchester City.
Chelsea could only be separated from Liverpool on penalties at Wembley in their first meeting, and while Liverpool will be favourites, history and an uncanny ability to emerge from seemingly unfavourable circumstances with a trophy, means it would be foolish to write the Blues off.