Chelsea vs Liverpool represents an FA Cup final befitting the occasion

There’s around ten miles between the Kennington Oval and Wembley, venues for the first FA Cup final and the one being staged tomorrow, 150 years later.

But never mind a century and a half, the distance between the sport in which Chelsea and Liverpool will compete and the Victorian pastime that brought the Wanderers and Royal Engineers together is better measured in light years.

The 2,000 who witnessed the FA Cup held aloft for the first time are as likely to recognise the concept of one of the teams being sold for more than £4billion as they are a 90,000-seat stadium in which the latest winners will take their bow.

Not everything is so different, though. While Chelsea’s run to a fifth cup final in six years was hardly taxing — featuring wins at home to non-league Chesterfield and League One Plymouth, and away to Championship duo Middlesbrough and Luton before their semi-final with Crystal Palace — 1872 winners Wanderers won just one of their four ties, with a combination of withdrawals and byes easing their passage to the first cup final.

There, the Leytonstone-based club beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 with a goal from Morton Betts, just the second Wanderers scored in the entire competition that year — which should give Romelu Lukaku’s critics food for thought.

The Belgium striker, signed for the sort of sum which would probably have bought you most of his home country in 1872, has largely struggled in his first season back in west London. Yet, with his three goals, Lukaku is Chelsea’s leading scorer in their FA Cup campaign.

At Liverpool, Takumi Minamino leads the FA Cup scoring charts, also with three goals, but in both cases, it is a reflection of the FA Cup’s importance to the modern-day super club, with neither likely to feature in the strongest side of their respective clubs.

Indeed, Minamino has not played at all since the FA Cup quarter-final win at Nottingham Forest, his limited chances further reduced by the form of January signing Luis Diaz.

‘Taki is not involved and it’s really hard,’ said boss Jurgen Klopp last week. ‘The last thing he deserves is to not be involved because he trains incredible, it just the team [is doing so well].’

However Klopp chooses to negotiate the competing priorities of chasing further silverware on three fronts, the Carabao Cup winners are likely to show their strongest hand tomorrow.

That means, for the third time at Wembley this spring, a front three of Diaz, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. They drew a blank in the League Cup final win over Tuchel’s Chelsea, with the game settled on penalties, but blew away champions-elect Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final, with Mane bagging a brace.

The Carabao Cup final was the third draw between Chelsea and Liverpool this season and the last time Klopp’s men failed to score. Since then, Chelsea’s defensive resilience has been called into question. The world champions conceded 14 goals in eight games in April, including three to Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge and four to Brentford and Arsenal.

Last Saturday, two late goals cost them victory over Wolves and left Chelsea having won just one in five league games. The defeats to Brentford, Madrid, Arsenal and the draw with Wolves were played out to a backdrop of empty seats, with the terms of the sanctions imposed on club owner Roman Abramovich restricting ticket sales.

Tuchel admitted uncertainty over the Chelsea’s future left his team ‘distracted, maybe concerned’ and said the completion of Todd Boehly’s takeover can’t come soon enough.

Of course off-field distractions, like FA Cup finals, are not something with which only the Chelsea men’s team have to trouble themselves.

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On Sunday, Emma Hayes will lead her all-conquering Chelsea team out against Manchester City in the Women’s FA Cup final. Abramovich made continued investment in the women’s side a key condition for anyone interested in buying the club and, having led the Blues to five Women’s Super League titles and three FA Cups in her decade in charge, new owner Boehly would do well to give Hayes what she likes.

With global stars like Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder to call on, Chelsea have utilised plenty of financial clout but without Hayes their dominance would be in question. Tomorrow’s opponents have also lavished funds on their women’s programme while Arsenal, long the dominant force in the women’s game and well-beaten in last year’s FA Cup final, were resurgent in this year’s WSL.

Chelsea needed a second-half comeback to see off the Gunners’ bid to scupper their push for a third straight league title, after which Hayes was ‘mentally drained’.

On Sunday, it will be City trying to take the champions’ belt, with their boss Gareth Taylor telling Metro Pep Guardiola was right to question the respect given to their club.

‘I certainly agree with what he said,’ Taylor admitted. ‘He didn’t say it with any malice, he was saying something that was pretty obvious. Pep’s always right.’

Given that the first women’s FA Cup final was not played until 1970 — almost a hundred years after their male counterparts — and the competition only came under the umbrella of the Football Association in 1993, women’s football as a whole knows all about lack of respect. But, with off-field uncertainty, global icons and a superstar manager it is making up for lost time.

So, the FA Cup in 2022 may be light years away from its humble origins, but the tens of thousands flocking to Wembley this weekend and the millions watching on television are just carrying on a love for the beautiful game sparked by the competition’s pioneers.

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