By Paul Lagan at Wembley Stadium
Chelsea 2 v Crystal Palace 0
As FA Cup semi-finals go, this won’t live long in the memory banks. For Chelsea fans the regulation 2-0 win was sufficient if expected, for the brilliant and vocal Crystal Palace fans, it will be a case of what if?
What if the half-chances were converted into goals, what if they played a slightly more expansive game, especially when going 1-0 down?
For Chelsea it’s just another important game successfully navigated in a week where they crashed out of the Champions League in heartbreaking fashion.
There was no real sense of jeopardy in this match. Yesterday’s 3-2 win for Liverpool against Manchester City in the other semi-final had at least had the possibility of a sensational comeback by City after going 3-0 down
There was very little action in the opening 20 minutes as both sides attempted to work out what the other was planning.
Kai Havertz had the first chance on goal, albeit a soft, looping header on 25 minutes. Jack Butland snaffled it easily.
Chelsea suffered a loss of Mateo Kovacic seconds later, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the ready-made replacement.
But the first meaningful piece of action fell to the South Londoners, on 37 minutes, when following a free-kick the ball fell to Cheikhou Kouyate on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, and his firm, left-footed half-volley pierced the Chelsea rearguard, but Edouard Mendy did well to dive to his left and parry the goal-bound effort away.
Seconds later Kai Havertz was rightly booked by Anthony Taylor when he dived, seeking a penalty.
There were no changes by either side at half time.
But the Blues started off better than they did the first half, pushing the Eagles back to the edge of their penalty area.
Palace made their first substitution, bring on Jordan Ayew for Jean-Philippe Mateta on 55 minutes.
Kouyate was again close to scoring, this time on 60 minutes when a Eberechi Eze corner was met on the head of the Senegalese, but the ball inched wide of Mendy’s right post.
The missed chance could come back to haunt them as five minutes later the west Londoners took the lead.
Some careful build-up play reaped dividends when the ball fell to in-running Loftus-Cheek, and the former Palace loanee smashed home a venomous right-footed half-volley from just inside the Palace penalty area.
Patrick Vieira opted to bring on Michael Olise and Christian Benteke, with James McArthur and Jeffrey Schlupp making way.
If those changes were intent in firing up Palace’s attacking potential, it had the opposite effect and Chelsea went up the other end and scored their second on 76 minutes – Mason Mount sliding the ball past a helpless Butland.
Head coach, Thomas Tuchel sensing the game was won opted to make three changes – Havertz, Mount, and Jorginho was replaced – Romelu Lukaku, N’Golo Kante and Hakim Ziyech came on.
Soon it was the turn of Brazil defender Thiago Silva to enter the fray, Andreas Christensen exited the pitch.
The Blues could have notched up number three on 90 minutes but a side-foot by Lukaku hit the post ans Ziyech’s follow-up was saved on the line and cleared for a corner.
The final whistle saw relief etched on the faces of Chelsea players, and frustration and disappointment on the faces of the Eagles.
Teams: Chelsea, Mendy, Rudiger, Alonso, Christensen, Jorginho, Kovacic, Werner, Mount, James, Azpilicueta, Havertz
Subs: Kepa, Silva, Kante, Lukaku, Pulisic, Loftus-Cheek, Saul, Ziyech, Sarr
Crystal Palace, Butland, Ward, Mitchell, Guehi, Kouyate, Eze, Zaha, Mateta, Schlupp, Andersen, McArthur
Subs: Guaita, Milivojevic, Tomkins, Olise, Ayew, Clyne, Benteke, Edouard, Kelly
Referee: Anthony Taylor