The 140th FA Cup final saw Leicester City beat Chelsea to win the trophy for the first time in their 130+ year existence.
Their more illustrious London-based rivals were seeking a ninth success to put them clear in third on the all-time winners list, ahead of what was expected to be a tight game at Wembley Stadium.
And so it proved. In fact, it took a piece of individual brilliance from Man of the Match Youri Tielemans (plus two worldy saves from Kasper Schmeichel) to end the Foxes’ long wait for Cup glory and condemn Chelsea to back-to-back final defeats, making them the first side to suffer this fate since Newcastle United in the late 1990s.
As the dust settles, here are five things we learned from this encounter.
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1. Cagey opening
Many – including BBC football pundit Alan Shearer – predicted chances were going to be few and far between, though very few expected a goalless opening 45 minutes. As half-time approached, there had been no shots on target by either side and neither defence were excruciatingly stretched, but Leicester’s backline should have been punished if Timo Werner of last season was on the pitch.
“Chelsea have been in one or two dangerous positions,” Shearer noted during the half-time interval. “They need to get Mason Mount on the ball a little bit more in the second half but I don’t think they’ll change too much.”
With both teams entering the break level, this became the first FA Cup final to be 0-0 at half time since Crystal Palace took on Manchester United in 2016. That contest needed an extra 30 minutes to be decided, as the Red Devils went on to win 2-1 after extra time.
2. Tielemans brings the thunder
The game needed livening up and just after the hour mark came a moment Youri Tielemans will never forget. Even before putting the Foxes ahead in spectacular fashion, he was unquestionably the best player out there.
“Youri Tielemans has arguably been the best player on the pitch. He’s so cool on the ball,” Jermaine Jenas said on commentary. That endeavour was rewarded when his fierce long-range effort flew past a helpless Kepa. “A brilliant strike from a brilliant player,” Jenas added.
Tielemans not only became Belgium’s third FA Cup final goalscorer after Eden Hazard (2018) and Kevin De Bruyne (2019) but the first Leicester player to do so since Ken Keyworth in 1963 when he netted against Manchester United. Unlike his international teammates, though, Keyworth’s effort was in vein and Matt Busby’s men ran out 1-3 winners.
3. Countering the Vardy threat
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or in this case an incredible football strategist) to know who Leicester City’s biggest attacking threat is. Kelechi Iheanacho has been irresistible of late, having bagged 15 goals across his past 19 appearances in all competitions. That said, there’s a strong case to be made that Jamie Vardy still makes the East Midlands side tick up top. His rags-to-riches tale is well-documented, and so is Vardy’s unrelenting movement, especially when playing on the shoulder of the last defender and looking to play in behind.
He may no longer be a spring chicken, but Tuchel is not in the business to underestimate Chelsea’s opposition and Leiciester’s No.9, which could explain his interesting tactical decision to field Reece James on the right of a back-three. An unfamiliar position for James, given where he’s predominantly played this season, but to say it’s a new role for the England international would be slightly inaccurate. James was often utilised there during an illustrious youth career and many top FIFA 21 gamers in fact play him as a ‘RCB’.
The overall result aside, this usage of James paid some dividends for Tuchel, as he often matched Vardy stride for stride to keep the Sheffield-born marksman at bay. Despite a losing effort, you can say the young English defender didn’t put a foot wrong.
4. Kasper stands tall
Once the Blues went behind, you expected a response from this world-class Chelsea side and to say they came back fighting would be an understatement. Credit to Brendan Rodgers’ men, though. A mentally ill-prepared team would have capitulated under such pressure but not this Leicester team and Kasper Schmeichel, in particular. He first denied former teammate Ben Chilwell in incredible fashion with 13 minutes remaining before producing an even more unbelievable save to leave Mason Mount speechless. Shearer highlighted Schmeichel’s “two world-class saves” in the immediate aftermath while Gary Lineker described him as a “man who always stands up on the big occasion,” before later adding, “what a great captain he’s been for Leicester City.”
You can hardly blame Lineker’s reaction given his life-long LCFC support. “He’s a big-game player, Kasper Schmeichel. He’s been brilliant this season. Possibly the best goalkeeper in the country this season? I don’t know.”
His sentiment was shared by former Arsenal and Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole. “I do think he’s underrated. He’s not spoken about like some of the other ‘keepers in Europe,” he added.
Ahead of Saturday’s final, Schmeichel told BBC Sport about his Manchester United ‘DNA’ had helped shape his work ethic: “My dad did say to me when I chose to become a professional footballer that people would judge you beforehand and will have this preconceived notion of you, and it will be much tougher for you than anybody else so you are going to have to work harder than anybody else.
“That was already in my DNA because I had seen it from a young age, that if you want to reach a certain level you have to put in the work.”
“As a kid you are looking up at [Eric Cantona] and he looks like a giant, he had that aura – I was half-petrified of him in a way, but he was such a sweet guy. Just watching the youngsters – the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham – their hunger, their enthusiasm, how much they trained and the extras they did.”
5. Following in Fergie’s footsteps
When the English Football Hall of Fame was opened in 2002, among the first managerial inductees was Alex Ferguson. And rightfully so, considering what he’d achieved since Manchester United appointed him less than two decades earlier. Today he remains the only manager to lift a league title in England and Scotland. It’s hard to envisage anyone will replicate that feat (looking at you, Steven Gerrard) but another of his personal achievements was matched today.
Going into this showpiece event, Leicester boss Rodgers had won the Scottish FA Cup with Celtic on two occasions (2017 and 2018). By seeing this game out, he became the first manager to win both the English and Scottish FA Cup since Ferguson, who lifted four Scottish FA Cup titles with Aberdeen and five English FA Cup titles with Man Utd.