Coaches Thomas Tuchel and Brendan Rodgers will battle it out to win their first trophy in English football when Chelsea and Leicester City clash in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday (12:15 p.m. ET, live stream only on ESPN +, USA).
In this game, two of the best teams in the Premier League compete against each other to win the oldest cup competition in football. The FA Cup was first held in 1871-72.
Chelsea aim to win the ninth FA Cup (and seventh this century), which would place them third on the all-time list behind Manchester United (12) and Arsenal (14). Leicester, who stunned the football world by winning the 2015/16 Premier League title, are entering their first FA Cup final since 1969 and aiming to win it for the first time.
Is it going to be a close match?
It is the first time since 2007, when title winners Man United lost to runner-up Chelsea, that the final has been played by two teams in the top four. So it promises a balanced game without clear favorites.
Leicester is third in the Premier League, two points ahead of Chelsea, and heads into the final week of the league season. Lately there has been little that separates the two teams from each other. In their last 10 league games, Chelsea are in third place in the form table with six wins, two draws and two defeats. Leicester is fifth, has won five, drawn twice and lost three times.
A 2-0 defeat at Leicester in January was Frank Lampard’s last league game as Chelsea manager. He was released less than a week later and replaced by Thomas Tuchel. Coincidentally, the two teams will meet again next Tuesday in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge in a game that will be crucial for qualifying for the Champions League.
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How did Thomas Tuchel change Chelsea?
The 47-year-old Tuchel started the season for Paris Saint-Germain before being fired in December. However, he was able to end the season by leading Chelsea to success in the FA Cup and Champions League.
When Tuchel replaced Lampard in mid-January, Chelsea finished ninth in the Premier League and lost ground to the top four, but he has seen a dramatic change with 17 wins and three losses in his 26 games across all competitions. Tuchel won national cups in Germany and France with Borussia Dortmund and PSG. He increased Chelsea, brought defensive solidity (18 goals against in 26 games) and lured the expensive strikers Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to a significantly improved form defenders Antonio Rüdiger and Marcos Alonso into the team.
Under Tuchel, Chelsea eliminated Man City in the semi-finals and defeated Pep Guardiola’s team in the Premier League last week, who they will face in the Champions League final in Portugal on May 29.
What about Brendan Rodgers?
Leicester was 11th in the Premier League and closer to the relegation zone than the top four when Rodgers left Celtic to replace Claude Puel in February 2019. Since then, Leicester has been on an upward trend, winning 57 of Rodgers’ 108 responsible games. They finished fifth last season and are well on their way to improving this time around.
Rodgers brought stylish football to King Power Stadium and made the club the most likely to break up the so-called “Big Six”. He has reinvigorated the career of 34-year-old striker Jamie Vardy and enhanced rising stars like James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans.
The former Liverpool manager has won seven major awards in less than three years at Celtic but has yet to win a trophy in English football. Repeal of the FA Cup would boost his reputation tremendously and leave him fighting for bigger jobs in the Premier League and in Europe.
Who are the main actors?
Rüdiger was repeatedly overlooked by Lampard in just nine games and was crucial in reviving Chelsea under Tuchel. In 19 league games without the German defender, Chelsea conceded 26 goals, but only seven in the 17 games he started. Rüdiger was rested after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Arsenal but is expected to be fit to take his place in the center-back against Leicester.
Former Leicester midfielder N’Golo Kante is another key man for Chelsea, while Christian Pulisic and Havertz’s recent attack form makes them great players for Tuchel.
Jonny Evans is as important as Leicester but the former Man United defender has a 50-50 chance of playing due to a heel injury that forced him to miss the team’s last two games. The 33-year-old is believed to be the glue holding Leicester’s defenses together, which means his absence would be a blow.
Needing Maddison and Tielemans in midfield form, Leicester are hoping former Man City striker Iheanacho can extend a run in which he has scored 13 goals in his last 12 games.
How did the two teams get to the final?
Leicester defeated championship teams Stoke City and Brentford before winning a Premier League draw against Brighton in round five when Iheanacho scored the only goal of the game in the 90th minute. Man United were knocked out in a 3-1 quarterfinal win at King Power Stadium before Iheanacho scored a 1-0 win over Southampton in the semifinals.
Chelsea started their FA Cup campaign with a 4-0 win over League Two Morecambe before beating championship teams Luton Town and Barnsley in rounds four and five. Sheffield United were beaten 2-0 in the quarter-finals at Stamford Bridge, with Hakim Ziyech’s goal securing a 1-0 semi-final win over Man City.
What about Leicester’s FA Cup final record?
Several clubs have lost more finals than Leicester – Manchester United and Everton share the enviable record of losing eight – but these teams have all won the Cup at least once. Leicester have made up to four FA Cup finals and lost all of them – 1949, 1961, 1963 and 1969 – allowing them to distinguish most of the finals without taking the trophy.
Recent history is also against Leicester. Of the last 25 finals, only two (Portsmouth 2008, Wigan 2013) won by clubs outside of the so-called “Big Six”. During this period, Arsenal (8), Chelsea (7), Man Utd (4), Man City (2) and Liverpool (2) dominated. Tottenham, the other Big Six team, haven’t won the FA Cup since 1991.
Will fans be allowed to go to Wembley?
Yes. A crowd of 21,000 will be in attendance, the largest in England since the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in March 2020. The Carabao Cup final at Wembley between Man City and Tottenham last month had 8,000 spectators and as this was a success the audience limit for Saturday’s game was raised.
Supporters do not need to be vaccinated to gain entry, but must test negative for COVID-19 within 36 hours of kick-off.
The game is designated as a testing event by the UK government and success or otherwise will affect the number of fans allowed to watch Euro 2020 games at Wembley in June and July.
Who is the referee? What about VAR?
Michael Oliver will take command as referee, with Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett running the lines as his assistants. Stuart Attwell was named fourth official following an injury to Paul Tierney. Sian Massey-Ellis will be the first official officer involved in the finals. She has been appointed VAR’s assistant video assistant referee, Chris Kavanagh.
The Football Association of England has invited Ben Kay, the Groundsman of League One club Accrington Stanley, to support the Wembley pitch team in the run-up to the final after helping make Chorley’s third round against Derby County in the non-league was held despite sub-zero temperatures. Kay and his colleagues slept in Chorley Square overnight, turning small heaters on to keep the playing surface from freezing.
Prediction time: who will win?
This could be the closest final in years but a lot depends on the fitness of Leicester defender Jonny Evans. If he doesn’t make it, it’s hard to see how the Foxes can keep the attacking players away from Chelsea.
Chelsea have become one of the best teams in Europe in Tuchel’s short tenure. You have the target threat and defensive organization to win and prepare for a trophy double before the Champions League final.
Chelsea 2, Leicester 1