On the back of a spectacular but heartbreaking night in the Champions League, Chelsea will aim to move one step closer to FA Cup glory when Crystal Palace await them for Sunday’s semi-final at Wembley Stadium.
The two London clubs are vying for the chance to meet either Liverpool or Manchester City in the showpiece event, with the fate of the other finalists to be determined 24 hours before this capital derby.
Real Madrid had seemingly established themselves as this season’s Champions League comeback kings after dumping Paris Saint-Germain out of the tournament, but Carlo Ancelotti was on the brink of suffering an embarrassing collapse against his former club before a certain Frenchman came to the fore.
While Thomas Tuchel’s side bagged three goals of their own against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and were close to becoming the first English side ever to win on the Madrid turf by at least two goals, Luka Modric’s delightful ball for Rodrygo to volley home forced extra time before that man Karim Benzema once again headed home to break blue hearts.
The defence of their European crown may be over, but Tuchel’s side dominated Real Madrid on their own patch for large periods and will take that momentum forward into Sunday’s semi-final, as they bid to reach the FA Cup final for the third season running.
Chelsea were forced to collect runners-up medals in 2020 and 2021, but they have found their way past Chesterfield, Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Middlesbrough to make it to Wembley, albeit with only one clean sheet in tow against their lower-league opponents.
Not since the EFL Cup final defeat to Liverpool have Chelsea failed to find the back of the net, and the Blues appear to have recovered from that temporary blip at the start of the month, so a shot at a ninth FA Cup crown is firmly within their sights, but Tuchel’s opposite number knows a thing or two about success in the prestigious competition.
On May 21, 2005, Patrick Vieira kicked the ball for the very last time as an Arsenal player, and his perfectly-placed spot kick propelled Arsenal to the FA Cup crown at the expense of Manchester United – his fourth and final medal in the competition with the Gunners.
Now seeking a maiden honour as a manager, the 45-year-old’s Crystal Palace side have caught the eye in recent weeks with a spate of strong performances – Manchester City and Arsenal are well aware of the Eagles’ power – but last weekend’s defeat to Leicester City showed that they are still far from the finished product.
Millwall, Hartlepool United, Stoke City and Everton have all been dumped out of this season’s FA Cup by Palace – who have scored at least two goals in all of those games while only conceding two overall – but they are the only team left in the competition who do not already have an FA Cup in their trophy cabinet.
The Eagles went down to Manchester United in the 1990 final before falling to the Red Devils’ superiority once more back in 2016, but they had strung together a seven-game unbeaten streak before the recent loss to Leicester – a stellar run which included four successive clean sheets against stiff opposition.
Chelsea were made to work for their 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park back in February, but that narrow triumph represented the Blues’ ninth win on the bounce in this fixture, and they will be in no mood to be the victims of the next FA Cup shock after their European heartache.
Chelsea FA Cup form:
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Crystal Palace FA Cup form:
Crystal Palace form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 3-1 Crystal Palace
Putting six past Southampton and three past Real Madrid makes Chelsea’s chances of a goal-laden performance here seem relatively high, and Tuchel’s side have an added motivation to clinch FA Cup glory, with their hopes of back-to-back European crowns now dead in the water.
Palace are capable of troubling any defence with their own plethora of attacking options, but Gallagher’s absence is a bitter blow for both player and manager, and we can only picture a fired-up Chelsea side booking their final tickets.