Leicester City defeated Chelsea by a score of 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup for the first time in the history of the club. A cautious first half saw no goalmouth action of note, but Youri Tielemans struck from distance on the hour mark to score the only goal of the match. A late flurry from Chelsea drew two world-class saves from Kasper Schmeichel as City held on to claim the Cup.
Manager Brendan Rodgers welcomed Jonny Evans back from injury as he named his starting XI for his first cup final at Leicester. Kasper Schmeichel captained the side from goal behind a back three of Wesley Fofana, Evans, and Çağlar Söyüncü. Timothy Castagne and Luke Thomas lined up wide, flanking the central midfield pairing of Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi. Ayoze Perez got the nod as the #10 behind strikers Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy.
The opening ten minutes were exactly as disjointed and nervy as you’d have expected. Chelsea bossed possession; Leicester played balls over the top, and none of it was coming off. The Blues were looking to attack down their right, hoping to put Thomas under pressure. Mason Mount did win a succession of corners, but the danger was cleared without any drama.
The Foxes’ first sight of goal was the result of some wonderful work by Tielemans and Castagne. The Belgian...wait, they’re both Belgian. Tielemans was given too much time to pick out a pass from inside his own half. He spotted his countryman’s run on the right and laid a perfect ball over the top into his path. Castagne fired in a low cross that Vardy met first time, but Antonio Rüdiger was perfectly positioned to block it.
On the half hour mark, Evans was noticeably wincing in pain and went to ground, signalling that he couldn’t continue. Rodgers was forced to make his first substitution, introducing Marc Albrighton for the Northern Ireland defender. Castagne shifted over to the right side of the defensive line. His first action was to pick up a yellow card for a late challenge, albeit one identical to the ones Rüdiger had made four or five times already.
Neither side carved out any chances that would light up the xG charts over the last quarter hour. Vardy had a header from a Tielemans cross that he put just wide, and Söyüncü missed a couple of half-chances from set pieces, but it would have been something special to have scored from any of them. It was a, oh, let’s call it “cagey” first half.
Rodgers made no additional changes at half-time either to personnel or system. The match felt ever-so-slightly more expansive at both ends of the pitch even with both defenses still well on top. It only took five minutes for the gaffer to summon James Maddison to his side for instructions for his presumably imminent introduction.
Or perhaps not imminent. Just prior to the hour mark, the Foxes won their first two corners of the match. Nothing came of them as Cags was yet to engage Lord Farquaad mode. The Foxes were starting to get their feet under them and looking ever-so-slightly the more likely team to score.
It was a little magic from Tielemans that broke the deadlock. A sloppy ball in defense gifted the ball to City on the left. It was centred to Tielemans 25 yards out and he launched an unstoppable rocket that rippled the top left corner of the netting and gave the Foxes the lead.
Maddison finally made his debut on 67’ minutes, coming on for Iheanacho, presumably dropping into a 1-4-5. Whatever the shape, there was a greater sense of energy as the Foxes went about their defensive duties. With the Foxes sitting deep and inviting pressure, this was going to be one of the nerviest twenty minutes of football I’ve ever lived through.
Chelsea finally had their first real chance of the match in the 79th minute. A couple of familiar faces combined, with N’Golo Kante crossing for Ben Chilwell, who nodded the ball goalward, but Schmeichel made a sprawling save. The defense dealt with the rebound, but this was the first time the defense were truly troubled.
With less than ten minutes of regular time to play, Rodgers tried to tighten the defense to an absolute vice. He withdrew Ayoze and Thomas and sent on Hamza Choudhury and...Wes Morgan? Yes, Captain Morgan on and Castagne shifting over to the left.
Schmeichel came to the rescue again on 87’ minutes. A cross caused chaos in the Leicester box and it fell to Mount on the edge of the area. His snap shot was on target, but somehow the Danish stopper got a hand to it and turned it around the post.
There was nothing Schmeichel could do a minute later when a beautiful ball over the top found Chilwell’s run to the far post. The former Fox bundled shot was blocked and then bundled home from close range off of Morgan to devastate the travelling fans. However, VAR had a look and made the right call as he was clearly offside.
There were five minutes added on, but the Foxes had the bit between their teeth and the fans (yes, fans! SIX THOUSAND BEAUTIFUL LEICESTER SUPPORTERS) cheering every tackle. The final whistle went and City lifted the FA Cup for the first time in club history.
Oh my, God it feels so good to type that.
I’m just sitting here staring at the laptop, trying to think of how to express how I feel about this. I understand that this is probably not as important to the club’s future as reaching the Champions League, but this is history for this club and it’s right up there with winning the league. No, really; it’s that big.
Was it “deserved”? I think so, but in the end, who really cares? Chelsea had the ball for days but they didn’t mount any serious attacks until the last ten minutes. The difference was Youri Tielemans, it was Wesley Fofana, it was Kasper Schmeichel, and it was a club that refused to fold.
Foxes. Never. Quit.
There’s no rest for the wicked. We’re back in league action on Tuesday, travelling to London to take on Chelsea in what is, for all intents and purposes, another Cup final. We close out the 2020/21 season next Sunday, facing Tottenham Hotspur at home.