It was a circuitous path to this most weird of conditions, counting on a peripheral midfielder with none first-team minutes since Jan. 8 to assist shut out an event reminiscent of Saturday’s loss on penalties to Liverpool — however nonetheless supplied proof of the principal purpose why a niche stays between the Blues and the highest two sides in England.
Most popular choice Kai Havertz failed a late health check on a hamstring downside, Romelu Lukaku was substituted after 85 minutes, Christian Pulisic didn’t impress when moved into the center, Timo Werner sustained a hamstring downside within the warm-up and Ruben Loftus-Cheek lasted simply 13 minutes earlier than Barkley’s superior penalty-taking document triggered his sudden inclusion for the ultimate couple of minutes of additional time.
Barkley transformed his spot-kick and so in that context, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel will really feel that specific choice was justified. But bringing on Loftus-Cheek within the first place so late within the recreation — in the beginning of the second interval of extra-time — was by itself considerably baffling given the proximity to penalties.
If Werner was nonetheless match sufficient for the bench, may he not have performed quarter-hour? And the curious image of Barkley taking part in out time as a makeshift No. 9 is symbolic of a wider problem. With or with out Lukaku, Chelsea merely haven’t been as cohesive in assault as Manchester City and Liverpool over the course of the marketing campaign.
As was the case when these sides additionally met in February’s Carabao Cup closing and in April’s Champions League quarterfinal exit to Real Madrid, the Blues had adequate possibilities at Wembley on Saturday to win however didn’t take them. For all his troubles since returning to Chelsea in a €115 million transfer from Internazionale final summer season, Lukaku is the membership’s top-scorer this season with 15 objectives. Solely three different gamers have gotten into double figures throughout all competitions. Liverpool, in contrast, have three gamers — Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota — who’ve scored 15 objectives every within the Premier League alone.
With two video games to play, Chelsea have scored 73 objectives within the league, a decent tally however nonetheless effectively wanting Liverpool (89) and Metropolis, who’ve scored 94 objectives regardless of failing to signal the centre-forward they desired final summer season. Pep Guardiola discovered a solution to preserve Metropolis’s effectiveness regardless in a way Tuchel hasn’t fairly matched. It’s a state of affairs which should be prime of the in-tray once the new club owners are in place: both switch Lukaku or construct round him extra successfully to shut the hole on Liverpool and Metropolis.
The difficulty of Lukaku’s future resurfaced as soon as once more on the eve of Saturday’s recreation, creating headlines the Belgian himself sought to diffuse after his agent had been quoted discussing a return to Italy — however by that stage on Friday, Tuchel had already admitted it was “a state of affairs you do not need to have earlier than massive matches.”
Lukaku’s unhappiness has bubbled alongside within the background ever since he gave that controversial interview to Sky Italia again in December however wider occasions have since overtaken Chelsea, most clearly the sale triggered by the UK authorities sanctioning proprietor Roman Abramovich for alleged ties to Russia president Vladimir Putin.
Havertz has proved a more practical choice, however arguably extra so with out the ball as he leads the Chelsea press so effectively; his absence was keenly felt early on at Wembley on Saturday as Liverpool threatened to overwhelm the Blues in a devastating opening 20-minute spell during which Luis Diaz ran riot with out scoring. Pulisic had a number of possibilities as Chelsea settled — the clearest two minutes after the restart when firing straight at Alisson from contained in the field — however this was a wasteful efficiency from the United States worldwide, one other instance of the profligacy that permeates the squad.
Lukaku was withdrawn having touched the ball simply 15 instances, the fewest of any starter on the pitch except for Salah (13), who solely performed 33 minutes earlier than selecting up a groin harm. Dropping Werner shortly before-kick-off was unlucky however the Germany worldwide has by no means been essentially the most dependable performer in any case, definitely one other to lack the scientific contact Chelsea so badly want in entrance of purpose.
Tuchel talked about the government sanctions’ impact have had in his planning for next season and the debilitating impact on the tip to this marketing campaign, citing gamers together with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger leaving as the alternative to the unity Liverpool at the moment possess. But they have been nonetheless in a position to rally to match Liverpool stride for stride, solely falling brief in entrance of purpose as soon as extra; it felt important within the wider context that not one among Chelsea’s seven penalties was taken by a recognised ahead whereas Liverpool had Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mane amongst their takers.
As a substitute of 1 final piece of silverware to finish the Abramovich period, Chelsea declare an undesirable piece of historical past as the primary crew ever to lose three consecutive FA Cup finals. After the 2020 loss to Arsenal, they have been crushed 1-0 by Leicester City final season attributable to one other barren outing in entrance of purpose, a problem repeated with such regularity that it prompted them to pay a club-record payment to signal Lukaku. The issue nonetheless stays.