Chelsea turned to an FA Cup specialist to earn their place in this season’s final with Olivier Giroud scoring a quite wonderful goal to break the deadlock against Southampton. It was good feet for a big man, as the cliché goes.
This result sets up an FA Cup on May 19 against Manchester United; a collision course for Antonio Conte, in what is expected to be his last match as Chelsea head coach, against Jose Mourinho.
Southampton will feel aggrieved that they were denied what would have been an equaliser, before Chelsea’s second goal, after goalkeeper Willy Caballero carried the ball over the line under pressure from Charlie Austin who was penalised.
It will be in Conte’s mind to again select Giroud for that game given the striker’s record of winning three FA Cups at Arsenal and, now, being undefeated in 10 appearances at Wembley.
Giroud has not lost in four FA Cup semi-finals, three finals and three Community Shields at this stadium and scored just 28 seconds into the second-half with a brilliant effort that will, in fact, go down as one of the best goals ever scored in this arena.
From the re-start Cesc Fabregas lofted the ball forward and it was acrobatically taken down by Eden Hazard who picked out Giroud as he stumbled. The £18million January signing, selected ahead of Alvaro Morata showed great balance and nimbleness to first beat Mario Lemina, as he lunged in, then Maya Yoshida, then Cedric Soares before finally poking his shot into the net as Jan Bednarek also tried to block. The defender collided with goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. Shades of Ricky Villa for Tottenham Hotspur against Manchester City back in the 80s with the penalty box chaos Giroud caused.
Morata eventually replaced Giroud and added a second goal from a combination that had served Chelsea so well earlier this season: a cross from Cesar Azpilicueta out on the right with his fellow Spaniard rising high to guide a header into the goal. A classic Morata goal after Giroud had simply scored a classic goal. It was Chelsea’s record signing’s first touch and he should have had a second as he met Hazard’s cut back only for his shot to be cleared off the line.
Immediately after Chelsea’s second goal Southampton went close as Austin, at full stretch, met Ryan Bertrand’s low cross which ran beyond the far post and he did well to guide a shot back across goal. It rebounded off the other post.
It was only after going behind that Southampton showed any ambition. They have missed out on this Cup final but have four ‘cup finals’ to play with their final four Premier League matches as they desperately attempt to avoid relegation.
Even so they should have canceled out Giroud’s goal after a lovely dummy by Austin put Shane Long clear only for the striker’s first touch to be far too heavy as he rounded goalkeeper Willy Caballero. The ball ran out of play. Soon after and a powerful shot by substitute Nathan Redmond almost beat Caballero who blocked it only for the ball to squirm past him and beyond the post.
To cap a poor few minutes for Caballero, playing as he has done throughout Chelsea’s FA Cup campaign and with Thibaut Courtois not even on the bench, he then made a mess of collecting a high ball into the area, fumbling it over the line. He earned a reprieve though with referee Martin Atkinson harshly penalised Austin for a perceived push.
Chelsea had started the game at a pace even more blistering than the weather. They threatened to brush Southampton aside in a first-half flurry of early chances and went closest when Hazard broke from inside his own half before pushing the ball wide to Willian. He moved it back inside with his curling left-foot shot clipping the top of the crossbar.
Chelsea’s second goal ended any hope Southampton had of salvaging the tie although, again, they will argue that the luck was against them with that Caballero incident. Even so Chelsea were deserved winners with Conte still hoping to leave with another trophy secured.