Chelsea v Leicester City – why FA Cup Final Wembley showpiece still matters

The romantic storyline is still there this evening in an FA Cup final which brings together a (relatively new) member of English football’s elite and a club looking to break into it.

WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Chelsea and Leicester City face off in today's FA Cup Final at Wembley. Picture: Michael Regan/PA
WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Chelsea and Leicester City face off in today's FA Cup Final at Wembley. Picture: Michael Regan/PA

But whilst some of us still get tingles from “Abide With Me” warbling across Wembley, the world’s greatest cup competition is living off its reputation.

Considering Leicester City have never lifted the Cup, it would be nice to think today really mattered to them, a chance to show that even though they are not regarded as one of English football’s “Big Six”, they really should be. Brendan Rodgers’s side are above Chelsea Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, and have won it more recently than Manchester United or the north London giants, yet when it came to European breakaways, there was never a thought of inviting them.

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But the reality is that for the Foxes, just like Chelsea, who have hoovered up five FA Cups since Roman Abramovich began furiously topping up their bank account in 2003, Tuesday’s Stamford Bridge league game is far more important.

WINNERS: Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (centre) and team-mates celebrate with the FA Cup trophy after beating Chelsea at Wembley last year. Picture: Adam Davy/PA.

And Chelsea, it must be said, have the small matter of a Champions League final in a fortnight.

Football used to be about winning things. The FA Cup final, one of the season’s few televised matches, was its highlight, winning it more important to some than the stamina test of topping the league.

Not now.

For Arsene Wenger to describe finishing fourth in the Premier League – securing Champions League qualification – as a “trophy” was disgusting and in the eyes of those who run clubs, bang on the considerable money.

LAST CHANCE? Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Picture: Michael Regan/PA

Abramovich sacked manager Antonio Conte after winning the Cup in 2018, as Manchester United did with even more undue haste with Louis van Gaal two years earlier.

Both had finished fifth in the league.

The FA have not helped either, playing semi-finals at Wembley in a money-grab which began in 1991, when Sheffield relocated there for the day. Last season the fifth round became a midweek after-thought. Saturday 3pm has become a 5.15pm kick-off on a league weekend and if there are no trains to take fans home, sod them.

But football is about escapism, so suspend your cynicism for 90 minutes – 120 and penalties if needs be. Once the whistle blows, the game will matter to those on the pitch.

For Sheffield’s Jamie Vardy, it is a chance to finally win the trophy, perhaps his last as the torch seemingly passes to Leicester team-mate Kelechi Iheanacho who has outscored him 15-2 since Christmas, and whose 14 career FA Cup goals are third most of any active player.

Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Kai Havertz can gloss over the goalscoring shortcomings of debut seasons in a team now rock solid defensively under Thomas Tuchel.

It does matter, it does matter. Keep telling yourself that and enjoy the spectacle.

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