FA Cup final preview: Will Chelsea or Leicester lift the trophy at Wembley?

Coaches Thomas Tuchel and Brendan Rodgers will battle it out to try to win their first trophy in English football when Chelsea and Leicester City meet in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley (12.15 p.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+, U.S. only).

It’s a game that will see two of the Premier League‘s top teams face off to win the oldest cup competition in football, with the FA Cup first contested in 1871-72.

Chelsea are aiming to win their ninth FA Cup (and seventh this century), which would put them clear in 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, go into their first FA Cup final since 1969 looking to win it for the first time.

Is it going to be a close game?

It’s the first time since 2007, when title winners Man United lost to league runners-up Chelsea, that the final will be contested by two teams in the top four, so it promises to be an evenly balanced game with no clear favourite.

Leicester are third in the Premier League, two points ahead of Chelsea, heading into the final week of the league season, and there is little to separate the two sides in recent form. Over the last 10 league games, Chelsea sit third in the form table with six wins, two draws and two defeats. Leicester are fifth having won five, drawn twice and lost three times.

A 2-0 defeat at Leicester in January proved to be Frank Lampard’s last league game as Chelsea manager; he was sacked less than a week later and replaced by Thomas Tuchel. Coincidentally, the two teams meet again in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday in a game that will be crucial for Champions League qualification.

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How has Thomas Tuchel changed Chelsea?

Tuchel, 47, started the season in charge of Paris Saint-Germain before being sacked in December, but he could finish the campaign by guiding Chelsea to success in the FA Cup and Champions League.

When Tuchel replaced Lampard in mid-January, Chelsea were ninth in the Premier League and losing ground on the top four, but he’s overseen a dramatic transformation with 17 victories and three defeats in his 26 games in all competitions. Tuchel won domestic cups in Germany and France with Borussia Dortmund and PSG, and he’s elevated Chelsea, bringing defensive solidity (18 clean sheets in 26 games) and coaxing much-improved form out of expensive forwards Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, as well as restoring defenders Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso to the team.

Under Tuchel, Chelsea eliminated Man City at the semifinal stage and also beat Pep Guardiola’s team, whom they will also face in the Champions League final in Portugal on May 29, in the Premier League last week.

What about Brendan Rodgers?

Leicester were 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 have been on an upwards trajectory, winning 57 of Rodgers’ 108 games in charge. They finished fifth last season and on course to improve on that this time around.

Rodgers has brought stylish football to the King Power Stadium, and also turned the club into the one most likely to break up the so-called “Big Six.” He has revived the career of 34-year-old striker Jamie Vardy and has improved emerging stars such as James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans.

The former Liverpool manager won seven major honours in less than three years at Celtic, but he has yet to win a trophy in English football. Lifting the FA Cup would be a huge boost to his reputation and put him in contention for bigger jobs in the Premier League and Europe.

Who are the key players?

Having been overlooked consistently by Lampard, playing just nine games, Rudiger has been crucial to Chelsea’s revival under Tuchel. In 19 league games without the Germany defender, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals, but they have shipped just seven in the 17 games he has started. Rudiger was rested for Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat against Arsenal, but is expected to be fit to take his place at centre-back against Leicester.

Former Leicester midfielder N’Golo Kante is another key man for Chelsea, while the recent attacking form of Christian Pulisic and Havertz make them big players for Tuchel.

Jonny Evans is similarly important to Leicester, but the former Man United defender has a 50-50 chance to play due to a heel injury that forced him to miss the team’s last two games. The 33-year-old is regarded as the glue that holds Leicester’s defence together, meaning his absence would be a major blow.

Leicester will need Maddison and Tielemans on form in midfield and hope that former Man City striker Iheanacho can extend a run that has seen him score 13 goals in his last 12 games.

How did the two teams get to the final?

Leicester beat Championship teams Stoke City and Brentford before winning an all-Premier League tie against Brighton in round five, when Iheanacho scored the only goal of the game in the 90th minute. Man United were eliminated in a 3-1 quarterfinal win at the King Power Stadium, before Iheanacho earned a 1-0 victory over Southampton in the semis.

Chelsea started their FA Cup campaign with a 4-0 win against League Two Morecambe before beating Championship sides Luton Town and Barnsley in rounds four and five. Sheffield United were then beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the quarterfinals, with Hakim Ziyech‘s goal sealing a 1-0 semifinal win against Man City.

What about Leicester’s FA Cup final record?

Several clubs have lost more finals than Leicester — Manchester United and Everton share the unenviable record of having lost eight — but those teams have all won the cup on at least once. Leicester have made it to four FA Cup finals and lost them all — in 1949, 1961, 1963 and 1969 — which gives them the distinction of most final appearances without lifting the trophy.

Recent history is also against Leicester. Of the last 25 finals, only two (Portsmouth 2008, Wigan 2013) have been won by clubs outside the so-called “Big Six.” During that period, Arsenal (8), Chelsea (7), Man Utd (4), Man City (2) and Liverpool (2) have dominated. Tottenham, the other “Big Six” team, haven’t won the FA Cup since 1991.

Will fans be allowed into Wembley?

Yes. A crowd of 21,000, the largest in England since COVID-19 restrictions were imposed in March 2020, will be attending. An attendance of 8,000 was allowed for the Carabao Cup final at Wembley between Man City and Tottenham last month and, with that proving a success, the crowd limit has been raised for Saturday’s game.

Supporters will not need to have been vaccinated to gain entry, but they will have to provide a negative COVID-19 test within 36 hours of kick-off.

The game is designated as a test event by the UK government and the success, or otherwise, will influence 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 charge as referee, with Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett running the lines as his assistants. Stuart Attwell has been appointed as fourth official after an injury to Paul Tierney. Sian Massey-Ellis will become the first female official to be involved in the final, having been appointed as assistant video assistant referee to the VAR, Chris Kavanagh.

The English Football Association have invited Ben Kay, the groundsman at League One club Accrington Stanley, to support the Wembley pitch team in the build-up to the final after he helped ensure that non-league Chorley’s third-round tie against Derby County went ahead despite sub-zero temperatures. Kay and his colleagues slept on the Chorley pitch overnight and rotated small heaters to prevent the playing surface from freezing.

Prediction time: Who wins?

This could be the closest final in years, but much depends on the fitness of Leicester defender Jonny Evans. If he fails to make it, it is tough to see how the Foxes can keep out Chelsea’s attacking players.

Chelsea have become one of the best teams in Europe during Tuchel’s short time in charge. They have the goal threat and defensive organisation to win and set themselves up for a trophy double ahead of the Champions League final.

Chelsea 2, Leicester 1

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Guardiola suggests Torres could fill striker role for City

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has claimed he could convert Ferran Torres into a number nine.

With Sergio Aguero departing City at the end of the season, Guardiola is in need of a new attacking option.

The Spaniard has been widely tipped to enter the transfer market, with Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund one possible option, but Torres put forward a strong case with a hat-trick in the 4-3 win over Newcastle.

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His opening goal was an audacious flick after an excellent near-post run, but his second and third efforts were clinical efforts – with the former Valencia man showing the instincts of a striker.

Guardiola has been hugely impressed with the 21-year-old in his first season in the Premier League, and feels he has the potential to fill the striking void should the need arise.

“This evening he was important, but not just this evening,” Guardiola told Sky Sports. “This is his first season in England and his numbers are exceptional in terms of goals.

He came as a winger and I may have to think about playing him as a striker. When we had Sergio and Garbiel [Jesus] injured, he played as a striker and was always there.

“He has a sense of goal and I am very pleased.

“He can be a number nine. We used him this season and he was brilliant. His rhythm, especially offensively, has increased a lot.

Torres scored a hat-tirck for City

Image credit: Getty Images

“The movements he makes as a striker. The third goal for example, the shot hits the post and the ball is where he is. It is not left, not right, it is where he is.

“It is a sense of goal and strikers know it one second before the ball arrives. He has this talent and is a good finisher.”

Asked if Torres’ potential as a forward would persuade him not to enter the transfer market, Guardiola added: “I don’t know what is going to happen. I said maybe we are going to buy a striker, maybe we don’t. But we have a young guy and we can use him left, right and as a striker.”

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In the week City were crowned Premier League champions, it was anything but a victory parade on Tyneside.

They were twice behind as Newcastle, freed from the worries of relegation, went toe-to-to with the champions.

Class ultimately told, and the win saw them set a new record. The victory was their 12th on the spin away from home in the league, and no other side has hit that figure since the formation of the Football League in 1888.

It was also City’s 23rd game on the road without defeat in all competitions, taking them past Notts County’s unbeaten run in 2012.

“It is good the fact we won 12 times in a row,” Guardiola said. “No side before could do it, so we are happy for that.

“It is what we have done, four years together. When people say you don’t win the Champions League the team is a failure, or the players are a failure or the manager is a failure, football is consistent.

“The important is you win the Premier League. You have to celebrate, one day train and come here but the spirit was there.”

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Barcelona target Haaland over Messi

The Sun reports that Barcelona are prioritising the signing of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland over getting their current star forward Lionel Messi to extend his deal, with the club focusing on the future. The 34-year-old Argentine is out of contract this summer, but club president Joan Laporta believes that this transfer window offers a rare opportunity to take a run at the Norwegian while other clubs are financially constrained, while Jadon Sancho looks set for Manchester United.

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Paper Round’s view: The paper claims that Barcelona are around £1 billion in debt, but if they are able to secure Haaland this summer and keep Messi, it would certainly keep the sponsors interested in the club, and would probably set them on the way back to challenging for La Liga and the Champions League. If they can cut the fat elsewhere in the squad, they may be able to justify the expenditure.

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Arsenal weigh up Luiz replacements

The Telegraph reports that Arsenal have told 34-year-old Brazilian central defender David Luiz that his contract will not be extended beyond the summer, meaning the former Chelsea man can sign for another club on a free transfer. Mikel Arteta could be interested in Joachim Andersen, the Lyon defender who is on loan at Premier League club Fulham, but Spurs are ahead of them in the race for the 24-year-old Dane.

Paper Round’s view: Luiz has hardly been a disaster for Arsenal but he did not exceed expectations: he made mistakes but he was also pretty capable over the course of two seasons. It makes sense though that Arteta wants to do better than Luiz, and Andersen has the promise and potential to become one of the best defenders in the league, Lyon are likely to be ready to sell.

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Milan want Brahim stay

Serie A side AC Milan are looking to extend the stay of Brahim Diaz at the club. The 21-year-old Spanish playmaker has four goals and four assists with his loan club this season, and his parent side are unwilling to let him go out permanently, reports Spanish newspaper Marca. However Milan would also like to take him on a further loan for next season.

Paper Round’s view: Brahim has started his career with Real Madrid slowly since his arrival from Manchester City, but it seems he has found it hard to force his way through into the first team under Zinedine Zidane. He clearly has talent, so a compromise for player and both clubs would be to let him stay where he is for now and develop his talent so Zidane has little choice but to use him more regularly.

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West Ham want next Michail Antonio

The Mirror reports that Premier League surprise package West Ham United are planning for the future as they look to sign a prospect for the future, 17-year-old Kesna Clarke. Clarke is a product of the Tooting & Mitcham United academy, the club where Michail Antonio also started his career. He is currently playing in the Isthmian League South Central Division.

Paper Round’s view: West Ham are fortunate to be in London and able to cast their net relatively wide to go through much of the best talent in the south east. If Clarke really is as good as Antonio, then he could help the club with a player who could contribute for a decade. David Moyes could well be given the chance to spend big this summer after an impressive showing.

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Tokyo gold the aim for French after World Cup Final success

Kate French does not intend to settle for anything less than gold at Tokyo 2020 after the British modern pentathlon star clinched top spot at the World Cup Final in Hungary.

The 30-year-old Olympian concluded her phenomenal World Cup season by winning another gold medal following a dramatic laser run finale.

French was second going into the final event but showed her class to storm to victory, with team-mates Jo Muir and Francesca Summers in sixth and eighth respectively.

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And having already won World Cup gold in Budapest earlier this year, as well as a silver in Sofia, another podium-topping performance makes French a firm favourite in Tokyo.

“It’s been a long process to get to this point so I’m really happy,” said the University of Bath-based French, who finished fifth on her Olympic debut at Rio 2016.

It was definitely tough, I can’t say I felt amazing today so I’m even happier coming away with gold. I always go into the race just thinking about my performance.

“I just aim to pick people off so I think I caught her on the third lap so from then it was all guns go. I’m heading in the right direction so I hope to keep training hard. I’m aiming for gold in Tokyo.”

French took the gold medal ahead of Germany’s Annika Schleu and home favourite Michelle Gulyas but it was not always easy going for the Gravesend-born athlete.

She started her day with a swim of 2:19.56 to sit in 17th after the opening event, with Muir in seventh with a time of 2:13.85 and Summers 24th (2:23.14).

The fencing discipline saw French significantly boost her standing, though, with her record of 23 victories and 12 defeats securing her third place and moving her up to sixth overall.

Summers also enjoyed a strong fencing round, with her record of 22V/13D (seventh) moving her up to 11th overall while Muir dropped to 10th with her fencing record of 19V/16D (15th).

All three Brits improved their overall standing in the show jumping stage, with French climbing up to second with a score of 296 as Muir’s perfect 300 saw her move up to eighth.

Summers also creeped into the top ten with a score of 299 on her horse to leave the trio well-poised to compete for the medals going into the fourth and final event.

Egyptian Amira Kandil led the way at the start of the laser run and an unsteady early shoot from French saw her lose ground to the leader and get overtaken by Gulyas.

But French quickly recovered to overtake Gulyas and Kandil, who slipped away to finish 10th, as the Brit surged home to add another gold medal to her collection.

Muir and Summers also finished strongly to complete a day to remember for the Pentathlon GB team in Hungary, with more medal chances still to come in the men’s final.

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