Chelsea's strikers send it to an FA Cup final that'll be a battle to avoid disappointment

Olivier Giroud sent Chelsea to the FA Cup final with the first of two goals against Southampton in the semifinal. (Getty)
Olivier Giroud sent Chelsea to the FA Cup final with the first of two goals against Southampton in the semifinal. (Getty)

Chelsea and Manchester United have done their fair shares of winning over the past two seasons. They’ve won trophies. They’ve killed off fellow giants on English soil and abroad. By many measures, the first two seasons at their respective clubs for Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have been successful.

And yet next month’s FA Cup final, a showdown set up by Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Southampton on Sunday, will feel as much like a battle to avoid failure as a battle for silverware.

Because neither Chelsea nor Manchester United has won any so far this year. Their return trips to Wembley on May 19 will be their last chance.

Mourinho and Conte are under immense pressure. The latter is reportedly on his way out this summer despite a dominant title-winning campaign last year. The former won two second-rate trophies in year No. 1 at Old Trafford, and says a second-place Premier League finish this season would represent success; but in the absence of a cup triumph, most of his club’s supporters disagree.

That’s why neither semifinal victory was greeted by a party. They were greeted by applause and celebrations, sure. But also by the sense that they paved the way for something more; and that something more was not only desired, but required.

The Blues, similar to United less than 24 hours earlier, weren’t particularly comprehensive in their takedown of the Saints on Sunday. But they were certainly the better team.

Olivier Giroud gave them a deserved opener early in the second half. The French striker left four Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy stumbling over themselves as he dance past them and poked the ball into an empty net:


Blues fans held their breath through a couple of close calls for Willy Caballero at the other end. But Alvaro Morata, on for Giroud as a substitute, sealed Chelsea’s berth in the final with, of course, a header from a Cesar Azpilicueta cross:


Conte’s side will make its second consecutive final appearance. Last year’s ended in defeat to Arsenal, but was overshadowed by the Premier League triumph.

This year, with hopes of a top-four league finish drifting away, a loss wouldn’t be. It’d instead likely be a final disappointing act for an abbreviated regime that will be eulogized without proper appreciation.

But that’s simply life at a club funded by a billionaire Russian oligarch with past success to its name. It’s the harsh side of lofty and unquenchable expectations. Both Conte and Mourinho know that. And they’ll be fully aware of what’s on the line at Wembley.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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