Ruben Loftus-Cheek had himself a day as he entered the match in relief of Mateo Kovacic, who went down with an injury, and scored the opening goal to pace Chelsea to a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semifinal. It was Loftus-Cheek’s first goal in a Chelsea jersey since May of 2019 in the Europa League semifinals against Eintracht Frankfurt as he was later loaned out to Fulham before making his return to Chelsea this season.
With the win, Chelsea will head to the FA Cup final on May 14 against Liverpool at Wembley, marking their first FA Cup meeting since 2012. Chelsea have now reached the FA Cup final for the third consecutive season and for the fifth time over the past six seasons. They only have one FA Cup title to their name over that span. This is Thomas Tuchel’s sixth final since taking charge of the Chelsea head coaching job in January of 2021.
Liverpool and Chelsea have met three times already this season, including in the EFL Cup final in February when the Reds outlasted the Blues after 120 scoreless minutes to win 11-10 on penalties. The other two meetings in the Premier League have also ended in a draw.
As for Patrick Vieira and Crystal Palace, this was their best since reaching the final in 2016, as they held strong despite not being able to play Conor Gallagher against his parent club due to loan obligations. The score was close enough that you’ll wonder what could’ve been if Gallagher was able to feature. Chelsea didn’t allow Palace many chances on the attacking end and neutralized their key players for most of the day.
It was a hard fought first half for Palace and Chelsea where chances were at a premium as each team only had one shot on target. Reece James was deployed at center back again by Tuchel to contain the speed threat of Wilfred Zaha while Cesar Azpilicueta returned to the starting XI to deputize at right back. It only took 13 minutes for Mason Mount to have a good chance at goal but they were dealt a blow as Mateo Kovacic had to leave the match in the 26th minute.
Loftus-Cheek replaced the midfielder and it’s remains to be seem what the extent of Kovacic’s injury is. That substitution did stunt Chelsea’s build-up play as they had issues dealing with Crystal Palace’s defense. Palace failed to take advantage as Andreas Christensen and the defense stepped up at the proper time when they went on the counter attack.
Eberechi Eze found himself in space multiple times in midfield but after finding a teammate, the attack would falter due to Chelsea’s defensive pressure. Palace would get a good chance via Cheikhou Kouyate testing Edouard Mendy from outside the box. Joachim Andersen also had a chance that ricocheted the post, though it came from an offside position. Kai Havertz closed out the half by being booked for diving, which summed up Chelsea’s challenged creating chances.
The second half brought adjustments from both managers as Mount and Loftus-Cheek changed positions. Mount dropped deeper to dictate the build-up with Kovacic sidelined. The swap paid dividends almost immediately as Timo Werner found space but was stopped by Jack Butland, who came off of his line quickly to sweep up the danger. Vieira countered by bringing on Jordan Ayew for Jean-Philippe Mateta and swapping Zaha to striker to get him on the ball more as James dealt with him well on the wing.
Zaha was able to force a corner that made it to Kouyate, but he couldn’t get the free header on target to test Mendy again. Chelsea finally got their chance as Havertz found space on the right side of midfield to cross the ball across the face of net. It didn’t find a Chelsea target, but Marc Guéhi’s clearance found Loftus-Cheek outside the box and he hit quite a shot in for his first goal of the season.
Palace brought on more attacking players as Christian Benteke and Michael Olise entered, but that didn’t stop Chelsea from getting a second to put things out of reach in the 76th minute from Werner played 1-2 touches with Mount.
It’s fair to say that Werner is fully back as the first-choice left winger for now. He has the confidence to use his speed to get into good positions and make things happen which was lacking earlier in the season. While Crystal Palace did create a few more chances, the second goal put the Blues in control as Thiago Silva came in to close things out for Chelsea. Romelu Lukaku hit the post in the dying moments of the match as his finishing seems cursed these days. Even Hakim Ziyech’s follow up went into a sea of Palace defenders instead of hitting the back of the net.
It was a hard fought match between both sides and Palace should hang their heads high for going toe-to-toe with Chelsea on the day. Despite the Blues holding almost 70 percent of possession, they only had 11 shots on the day as Vieira’s defensive plan was a good one.