Chelsea will be looking to lay their hands on the Emirates FA Cup for the ninth time in their history when they lock horns with Leicester City in this season’s final at Wembley this evening, kick-off 5:15pm.
The Blues, who last won the trophy in 2018, defeating Manchester United 1-0 in the final, will be looking to get back on track after Wednesday evening’s shock 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal.
Defeat to the Gunners saw Chelsea denied the opportunity to climb back above Leicester in the Premier League table, meaning the Foxes enter today’s showpiece event in third and Chelsea in fourth.
With the defeat to the Gunners now done and dusted and out of the way, head coach Thomas Tuchel can only focus on what lies ahead for him and his players. However, the German has admitted that the midweek reversal against Mikel Arteta’s side was a “missed opportunity.”
“Yes, it clearly did,” Tuchel said during his pre-match conference on Friday lunchtime when asked if the defeat to Arsenal was a wake-up call.
“It is good for the preparation. We all feel that anger at the missed opportunity and the performance that night against Arsenal.
“We have the challenge to focus on only this match, on us, play on the edge and we will try to do this.
“In terms of quality, we will have to be at our best. Leicester are a strong side that deserve to be in the final and two days later we compete with them for top four.
“This is the highest level and we need a top performance.”
With both Chelsea and Leicester entering the contest in the Premier League top four, it does seem hard to pick a favourite. Both sides will fancy their chances of lifting the FA Cup at the end of the evening and celebrating in front of their own supporters for the first time in several months.
On what it is like to be involved in a cup final, Tuchel continued: “You’re so close, both teams are so close. The hunger increases and increases, the desire once you arrive in a final builds.
“The pressure is not from you guys (the media), the pressure is put on by yourself.
“You don’t feel so close when you start a cup competition in the first or second round. You know it’s going to be tough and you know where you want to go but there isn’t the same tension that builds up inside you.
“But you are so close, the cup will be there and you know this is the last match. You don’t ever know when you may arrive again, it can be a unique opportunity.
“That builds the circumstances that are unique and you can feel this with the preparation in training today and concentration level.
“It is different to be in a final. It’s the best thing to have in high-level sport, it brings out the best of you and we want to cope with it. It’s a big gift and hopefully, we can show our best performance.”
Ahead of kick-off this evening, Tuchel has already revealed some key team news, confirming that both Kepa Arrizabalaga and N’Golo Kante will start for the Blues.
Goalkeeper Arrizabalaga, who started the defeat to Arsenal, will continue in goal, as he has been Chelsea’s shot-stopper right throughout their FA Cup journey this season. Kante, meanwhile, will return after missing the clash with Arsenal to hand him the chance to earn a rest and get some treatment on his right Achilles.
“If you have a goalkeeper for this competition, as we have had with Kepa, you don’t change in the final,” admitted Tuchel. “He is a part of the group, he brought us to the final so he deserves to play the final.”
On Kante, Tuchel added: “We took the decision together, me and N’Golo [Kante] and the medical team, to leave him out and give him the Arsenal match to rest and have a treatment to the right Achilles.
“It was pain management, it is not a huge injury. It is nothing you need to be afraid of it getting big. It was just there and a bit annoying.
“Pain management and pain treatment. He did all the training sessions yesterday, today no complaints. He will start tomorrow and very likely finish the game for us.”
Meanwhile, Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic is back available for selection after missing the last nine matches with a hamstring injury.
On the former Real Madrid being set to return, Tuchel said: “It’s big news for us that Kova is back because he has a big impact on the dressing room around big matches. He’s a very positive guy so it’s good news.”
Tuchel has no other injury or suspension issues to contend with.
Full Chelsea squad available to face Leicester:
Goalkeepers: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Willy Caballero & Edouard Mendy.
Defenders: Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, Valentino Livramento, Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso & Emerson.
Midfielders: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Faustino Anjorin & Jorginho.
Strikers: Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner & Olivier Giroud.