In an age where the big clubs hold little affection for the domestic trophies, this year’s FA Cup final is almost more about who doesn’t win it, rather than who does. Not from a betting perspective, obviously, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Manchester United’s league campaign has been quietly impressive, if somewhat dull. They amassed over 80 points for the first time since the age of Fergie and but for the absurdly good season City had, would’ve been in a title tussle. Their limp Champions League exit to Sevilla wasn’t pretty, but that was down to their heritage. Just ask José.
As for Chelsea, they are enduring one of their slump seasons. Sure, most teams would love to slump their way to fifth (Merci, Arsene), but their title defence was non-existent, just as it was two years ago. This will surely be Antonio Conte’s last match in charge, yet he may be hounded out of town despite winning a trophy in each of his two seasons. Maurizio Sarri is the 3/1 favourite to be the next permanent Chelsea manager, in case you’re wondering.
So while the FA Cup offers both clubs a chance to have something tangible to show for disappointing campaigns, whoever loses will probably be the bigger news story. “In football, everything is a lie” according to Rafa Benitez, and he’s managed Chelsea so he should know.
It’s not an easy match to call either, and Paddy’s prices reflect that. United are narrow favourites, both to win in 90 minutes and to lift the trophy. The Red Devils are 13/8 to get the job done in normal time, or 5/6 to put Chelsea out of their misery at some point, while Conte’s mob are priced at 9/5 inside the 90, or even money to get blue ribbons tied to the cup.
Although they’ve had differing league campaigns on the face of it, the teams are more closely matched than you might think. In fact, the nerdy numbers suggest Chelsea have actually been the better team this season.
Premier League expected goals table for 2017/18. pic.twitter.com/gpLVZ3nSzE
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) May 13, 2018
Weird, right? No, not me, the figures in the table. Matches between the teams are usually close too, which doesn’t make predicting the outcome any easier. Only three of the last 12 meetings have been settled by more than one goal, with Chelsea’s 4-0 win last season a kind of weird anomaly which proves the rule.
We certainly shouldn’t expect much entertainment on Saturday. Four of the last six meetings have involved fewer than three goals, and that’s par for the course when José’s fun bus is in town.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 23, 2016
United under Ferguson were built upon thrilling, attacking football, but since Mourinho took charge, they’ve been involved in the fewest Premier League matches featuring three-or-more goals. Fewer than half of their league games against the rest of the top six have paid out on over 2.5 goals too, so the bet for this match has to be ‘under’, which can be yours at 7/4.
With goals largely off the menu, it also makes sense to bet ‘no’ on both teams to score, which is available at 8/11. These sides have met five times under their current managers, but they’ve only both found the net in one of the matches.
Just as the Red Devils top the Premier League for goal-light games over the past two seasons, so they do for matches where at least one side draws a blank. I can’t make this any clearer; just say ‘no’ when offered both teams to score.
Somebody’s got to score at least one goal though? Perhaps. It’s hard to know who, as nobody on either side was consistently strong in league matches among the big six this season. When the joint-top scorers (on three goals) include Marcos Alonso and Paul Pogba, you have to wonder what on earth the strikers were up to.
Olivier Giroud got his only top six goal of the season against Liverpool recently, and has found the net four times in his last seven appearances, so he’s the closest the Blues have to a consistent goal threat at present.
The Frenchman is bound to play too, as he has Wembley in the palm of his hand; Giroud has won 10 matches out of 10 when playing at the national stadium, and most of those were for Arsenal which shows how strong his voodoo must be. He’s 11/2 to open the scoring, or 23/10 to net at any time.
For United, Lukaku scored when these sides last met, but it was his only goal in a big league game all season. He’ll be lacking fitness too, so I’m looking elsewhere.
It would be wise to wait for the team news, but I think Jesse Lingard is worth a look here. He scored the winner in the 2016 FA Cup final, and he bagged three goals in top six matches this season, so he must surely be 300% better than Lukaku?
Whether he is or not, the England international is 16/5 to get on the score sheet, or 7/1 to get the opener. He’s also 7/1 to score the last goal, so that might be worth considering if he’s on the bench.
The first FA Cup final at the new Wembley saw these sides play out a deathly dull encounter, which Chelsea won in extra time. A similar lack of goals lies in wait this year, but I think United will edge it as they’ve had a stronger scoring record in the big league games this season. They’re 7/2 to win to nil, and that looks very appealing to me. Abide with me please, gods of gambling.