Dethroned champions, Chelsea ready to finish big

FA Cup By: Ayodeji Tunde | 21/04/2018

FC Naija

It has not been the best of seasons for Chelsea, but the torrid campaign can end on a high as the Blues are seeking FA Cup glory to compensate for their below-par performance in their quest to defend the Premier League title they won last time.

It is being suggested that Antonio Conte already has his bags packed and only waiting to exit Chelsea once the curtain drops on the season.

Whether true or false, Conte is bound to be highly respected if he signs out on a high with the FA Cup to add to his PL title won in his maiden season in charge of the Blues.

Chelsea's 2-1 victory over Burnley on Thursday night was full of surprises.

For a start, Conte chose to make six changes from the side that won 3-2 at Southampton on Saturday to make a mockery of the old maxim of never tinkering with a winning team.

Given the Italian's general reluctance to rotate his squad, the number of alterations raised a few eyebrows and seemed to indicate that his focus was firmly on Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Southampton rather than carrying on fighting for a top-four finish in the league.

Although understandable due to the gap to Tottenham (now five points), it still left a disappointing impression seeing that qualifying for the Champions League was, and is, still mathematically within Chelsea's reach. As it turned out, Conte was thoroughly vindicated by an excellent team performance.

The match saw Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata paired from the start for the first time and they caught the eye by dovetailing beautifully, a surprise to anyone who saw the disjointed last 10 minutes of the 3-1 defeat to Spurs earlier this month.

Giroud: Football is an everlasting new beginning

Their movement complemented each other startlingly well, despite them sharing similar characteristics, with Giroud showing that he has much better touch than had previously been supposed. All that was lacking was a goal from one of them, and although Morata will be frustrated that he failed to take any of his opportunities, the bigger picture was much more positive than his tantrum on the sidelines might have suggested.

On a broader perspective, the victory made it back-to-back wins for the Blues for the first time since December, a telling statistic that desperately needed rectifying.

That it came against the form team in the division was encouraging and even more gratifying was that Chelsea recovered from the shock concession of a freak goal to re-establish their authority and lead within a matter of minutes.

Conte: The players should share the blame for poor season

That strength of character had been sorely lacking in the past couple of months.

Chelsea should be buoyed and confident heading into the semi-final not least when reflecting on their past week.

Though the first hour at St Mary's last Saturday saw them deservedly behind, the manner of their victory will have given everyone a boost that will only have been enhanced by Thursday's result.

Conte has also seen the best that Southampton can offer while knowing that his team can improve further and will need to in order to guarantee a place in the final.

Given Chelsea's erratic season to date and subsequently dented egos, there should be no complacency anywhere within the squad.