Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel hailed the willingness of his players to fight for each other after ending Manchester City’s quest for an unprecedented quadruple at Wembley.
Hakim Ziyech fired the Blues to a fourth FA Cup final in five years, converting Timo Werner’s cross 10 minutes into the second half and Chelsea absorbed the late City onslaught.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s encounter, Tuchel revealed that “85 per cent” of his training sessions are focused on attacking movement, ball possession and the creation of chances. But there is no denying that Chelsea have become defensively more solid since he replaced Frank Lampard.
Indeed, since Tuchel’s first game in charge in January, no side in the top five European leagues have kept more than the Blues’ 14 clean sheets in all competitions. It is just two defeats in 19 games, with Tuchel becoming the first ever German manager to reach the FA Cup final.
“Football is very complex, so a good defence is also playing a good ball possession,” Tuchel said. “It is a well-deserved clean sheet today, which is what makes me very proud.
“We were not just lucky to escape. We didn’t sit back and defend in the box. We worked hard for it. You can feel the bond and the solidarity, the guys are ready to cover for each other.
“Altogether we wanted to be brave today and have a courage game with the ball and against the ball – we did it, so I am happy.”
All eyes were on Wembley as Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders faced Tuchel’s improving side in a heavyweight semi-final clash that could yet be repeated in the Champions League showpiece.
Ziyech’s second-half strike secured a 1-0 win under the arch, where Tuchel’s first-ever victory against former Bundesliga foe Guardiola means it is shaping up to be a memorable end to the season for the Blues.
Guardiola defends eight changes
City will be back at Wembley next weekend for the Carabao Cup final but they will be not be returning to the capital on May 15, when Chelsea will go for FA Cup glory against either Leicester or Southampton.
Guardiola urged his players to embrace the pressure of their quadruple bid, but the Spaniard made eight changes to his starting line-up following the 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund which confirmed their passage into the Champions League semi-finals.
The City boss defended his team selection, saying: “When you have two days and a half to recover and you play away, and you have to travel by train for three hours, and it was longer than three hours because we had to stop for one hour, and everyone deserves to play… don’t say we don’t pay attention.
“When a team arrives in the final stages of all the competitions, when this team, wins four finals in a row in the Carabao Cup, you can’t say that. Just say we lost the game.
“When you lose the game, the decisions are bad, but it is a poor argument my friends.
“We don’t get to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the final of the Carabao Cup four years in a row and the semi-finals of the Champions League when we do not pay attention to anything.
“This team, four for or five years, always plays to win the game. It was a tight game, we were not able to win, congratulations Chelsea. But Chelsea is a top side, this can happen.
“What would happen if today the result was completely different and we had won? Say Pep doesn’t pay attention before the game – don’t say it after just because we lose the game.
“These guys, for 10 or 11 months, fight every game like I’ve never seen before, but now we lose a game against a top side and now we don’t pay attention or respect this competition. We respect the FA Cup a lot. We came here to win.”
To compound matters, Kevin De Bruyne limped off with an ankle injury shortly before Ziyech’s winning strike. The midfielder landed awkwardly on his ankle following his battle for the ball with N’Golo Kante after 47 minutes, and Guardiola said: “It doesn’t look good. He has a lot of pain. Tomorrow we will make a test and we will see.”
City looked disjointed during a cagey opening half with Gabriel Jesus’ long-range strike their only effort on target. There was greater urgency following the introduction of Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden, on for the injured De Bruyne, but Kepa Arrizabalaga was rarely troubled.
City midfielder Fernandinho reflected on a missed opportunity to continue their trophy quest on four fronts.
Fernandinho told the BBC: “Obviously, we wanted to win the game and go through to the final. They started better than us but we got control of the game but we didn’t find the net. FA Cup semi-finals are always tight and are decided on details.
“They were better – congratulations to them, it was a tight match. The League Cup final will be important for the fans and they will be able to come to the stadium. Another final for us is important for us as players and human beings, and it is always special to come back for a final.”
‘Everyone has bought into Tuchel’s work ethic’
Tore Andre Flo told Sky Sports:
“City didn’t create much. They had all of the ball in the closing stages so they were trying really hard but Chelsea deserved to win. City looked tired and were far from their best. It’s a fair result. Chelsea were really strong defensively – Tuchel is getting all 11 players to work really hard for his team and that’s a major part of the success.
“City have been slow and didn’t attack in the same manner we’ve seen them do so often. Chelsea had to dig in during the last 20 minutes but they thoroughly deserve to reach the final.”
Both sides resume their Premier League campaigns in midweek. Chelsea host Brighton live on Sky Sports Premier League from 7.30pm on Tuesday, with kick-off at 8pm, while Manchester City are away to Aston Villa on Wednesday, with the game live on Sky Sports Premier League from 8pm ahead of the 8.15pm kick-off.
Chelsea will find out who they face in the FA Cup final when Leicester and Southampton go head to head in the other semi-final on Sunday.