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FA Cup final: Football as it should be is back as Youri Tielemans strike wins it for Leicester

Visceral reaction let loose across this long silent game felt like a much-anticipated reawakening

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Leicester's Youri Tielemans celebrates his winning goal in yesterday's FA Cup final. Photo: Matthew Childs/PA Wire

Leicester's Youri Tielemans celebrates his winning goal in yesterday's FA Cup final. Photo: Matthew Childs/PA Wire

Leicester's Youri Tielemans celebrates his winning goal in yesterday's FA Cup final. Photo: Matthew Childs/PA Wire

The roar at Wembley Stadium was for an FA Cup final winning goal for the ages from Youri Tielemans and the visceral reaction it let loose across this long-silent game felt like a much-anticipated reawakening: football as it should be is back at last.

This was the final when 21,000 supporters returned to the stands to give the game back its voice, and the drama to go with it was quite exquisite.

For Chelsea, a great FA Cup club, this was the Wembley afternoon when they had to accept second best, beaten by a club who have defied in recent years the notion of what is possible.

To their first league championship in 137 years from 2016, Leicester City added their first FA Cup, and they did so with a second-half goal of astonishing quality from their Belgian midfielder Tielemans.

It might not get them a place in the European Super League but it did mean that the first major event with significant supporter numbers in more than a year was an electrifying occasion.

Tielemans’ goal was not the only moment when the great roar of Wembley would rise in the throats of both sets of supporters.

The game would twist twice more, first when an own goal by veteran Leicester captain Wes Morgan, on the pitch as a substitute in his first game since December, seemed to have given Chelsea an 89th-minute equaliser.  

This was Chelsea’s moment, or so they thought, but the noise from the Leicester end when the video assistant Chris Kavanagh announced an offside for Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell in the build-up was just as fierce.

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This wonderful afternoon had it all, if one could look past a rather mediocre game. The celebrations at the end for Leicester seemed to mark a moment of renewal for the return of fans to games and the start again of football feeling like football once more.

For Brendan Rodgers, thrown in the air by his players in celebration, this was a great triumph — he got his team right.

Now he has to do that once more when they meet again with Chelsea on Tuesday for a league game that will have a major say on the Champions League places.

No rest for either manager, although Thomas Tuchel, whose players and staff had the long Wembley wait at the end without even a runners-up medal presentation, will know that he got this one wrong.

The wrong team against Arsenal on Wednesday night, by his own admission, and some big Wembley decisions that backfired. He went for Marcos Alonso over Chilwell, who came on as a substitute with a point to prove against his former team and very nearly did.

There was another troubling afternoon of ineffectiveness from Timo Werner. His place in Tuesday’s side must surely be in jeopardy.

In goal, Tuchel stayed with Kepa Arrizabalaga and while the case can be made that no goalkeeper would have got close to Tielemans’ match-winning strike, you would certainly say that Edouard Mendy would have got a lot closer.

Chelsea’s new German manager had revived their season in ways few could have foreseen but this was a bad afternoon for him. As for Rodgers, he seemed to react to the challenge better.

The loss of Jonny Evans with 10 minutes of the first half remaining was a blow for Leicester, albeit one with which they coped well.

Thomas Castagne was switched to the right side of the three centre-backs and Marc Albrighton, an outstanding performer at Old Trafford on Tuesday, came on to take the right wing-back role. Leicester had been remarkably solid and the chances that Chelsea created were fleeting.

There was a cross from Thiago Silva that Werner never got a solid connection on and in doing so took the flight of it away from Cesar Azpilicueta waiting after him.

The Chelsea striker ran against his own familiar problems in the first half, twice blocked by Wesley Fofana when there was a glimpse of goal. Moments later the German was badly late on the teenager Luke Thomas and was booked for it.

This was a hard game for goalscorers but it was notable just how the chances passed Werner by.

Leicester went long whenever the opportunity arose, seeking the space behind the Chelsea back three, which had been rejigged to match Reece James with Jamie Vardy.

 There was a roar of frustration from Tuchel when it came to Werner being bounced perfunctorily off the ball by Tielemans with five minutes of the second half being played.

The Chelsea manager would eventually substitute Werner in the closing stages. This was a defensively dominant game that required a great moment to change its course.

There were other factors worthy of consideration that created the right conditions for the goal. The loose pass from James that bounced off Ayoze Perez and to the feet of Thomas. The retreating line of blue shirts in front of Tielemans as he strode forward with it, and finally the dive of Arrizabalaga.

It needed a great save, and nothing this goalkeeper has done since he arrived at Chelsea suggested he would ever be remotely close to it.

This was an FA Cup classic, struck by one of Europe’s most talented young footballers ahead of whom there is surely a glittering career — and wherever he ends up he will be grateful that he chose Leicester.

In the closing stages both managers changed up, and Tuchel sent on all his attacking options.

Kasper Schmeichel made a save from Mason Mount; Chilwell broke behind the Leicester defence on 89 minutes and although Caglar Soyuncu blocked his shot, it came back off Morgan and went in.

In that moment it felt like two substitutions — the quicksilver Chilwell and the rather less quicksilver Morgan — had changed the game, but Var intervened and the final was over.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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