It’s Cup Final day!
It might not have quite the same amount of glamour or importance as it once did – it may reflect my age, but I can remember when Cup Final day was massive and being excited beyond belief about the hours and hours of BBC coverage on the day, happily watching a coach make it’s slow journey from a hotel to Wembley – but it is still a big trophy for teams to win.
The focus some clubs pay to it has declined to some extent, but that’s natural given the amount of money in the Premier League and Champions League. However, the bigger clubs have strong enough squads to take it seriously and seem to give it increased attention once through the early rounds and there is a realistic opportunity to win a trophy. The fact that the semi-finals featured four of the top five backs up that theory.
This year’s final has a strong look to it on paper with league champions Chelsea taking on Arsenal, but I have a feeling this could be rather one sided.
Chelsea were comfortable and worthy winners of the title this year, it’s maybe not noticed as much as it should have been that they finished the season with 93 points, which is just two off the record total. The lack of European football would have been a help to their cause, allowing Antonio Conte more time to instil his ideas, but Conte’s approach has demonstrated what a good coach he is and what a big difference a bit of tactical nous makes in England. From what I’ve seen of Conte from his time with Juventus through to now, is that he seems to have a good mix of idealism and pragmatism; he has strong ideas about the game but he is not as wedded to those as some others perhaps are and he is perfectly willing to adapt to the situation he faces.
Chelsea come into the final relatively fresh and full of confidence after their league triumph. The one potential danger is that they have had their foot off the gas slightly since securing the title, but I can’t believe Conte won’t have the players fully focused on the task and won’t have spent the past week fully preparing his squad. Even if they have been slightly distracted due to the things going on around them after winning the title, they still managed to win their final games of the season.
Through most of the season they impressed with their attacking football, physical strength and also the defensive side of the game, showing good flexibility throughout.
N’Golo Kante undoubtedly helps give them that balance but it also the overall shape that has contributed to their success, with the back three a criminally underused system in this country until Conte re-introduced it and everyone else subsequently jumped on the bandwagon. If you have ever played in that system you will appreciate how effective it is, allowing a greater amount of flexibility and the ability to find so much space when lining-up against a more traditional 4-4-2. It’s not just as simple as lining up in the formation and hey presto on you go, you do need tactically adept and versatile players to succeed but when done properly it can be so effective against more rigid formations. It has many benefits but at the most simple level it allows a team to overload the opposition in key areas of the pitch and to naturally find space as defensively the opposition are pulled out of position.
The benefits of the Chelsea shape could somewhat be countered in the Cup final as Arsenal have also shifted to a similar set-up recently with a certain degree of success, although I do think that has been slightly overplayed by ignoring the opposition and time of the season in which Arsenal have used it.
This season Arsenal have in some respects been at ‘peak-Arsenal’ levels in their performances; playing some aesthetically pleasing football but lacking any kind of backbone and being easily rolled-over against key rivals and sides with a more physical nature, but the fact that their late rally did not result in a fourth place finish means they aren’t quite at that ‘peak-Arsenal’ level we’ve become accustomed to.
To be fair to Arsenal though, in some respects they (and Arsene Wenger) have improved this season. They may have finished outside of the top four but their points total has increased and they (and Wenger) have shown greater ability to adapt this year. It’s not like the Arsenal of old who really did only have the one way of playing, it’s just that there are more teams around them who have improved that much more this year.
The switch to the back three in the latter part of the season has seen a change in fortunes, even if I’m not fully convinced that’s why Arsenal saw an improvement in results. However, Arsenal are heading into this match beset with injuries to defenders and may not have the personnel available to line-up with a back three. Whichever formation they line-up with there will be square pegs in round holes to some extent, but they may just struggle for numbers to even line-up with a back three and could be forced to switch back to the back-four.
I fancied Chelsea to win this comfortably regardless of line-up’s, however, with the defensive injuries Arsenal have and if they are forced to line-up with a back four, I could see this being an embarrassment for Arsenal.
Chelsea and Conte appear to be everything Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are not; strong, organised and flexible tactically (amongst other things) and if Arsenal line-up with a back four I expect Chelsea to overwhelm Arsenal in midfield and attack. They will simply be too strong for Arsenal, and if in peak form will power through the brittle backbone of Arsenal.
I can’t see any situation in which Arsenal will be able to keep Chelsea at bay and if there is an early goal for The Blues it could quickly turn into a real mismatch.
The 5/6 on its own for Chelsea in 90 minutes looks very generous but I’d be tempted to play the handicap market and take advantage of the 11/5 available for Chelsea at -1. I think that is tremendous value for a match in which I cannot see any other outcome than a comfortable Chelsea victory.
Chelsea – Handicap -1 @ 11/5 (Betfair)