‘Chelsea pain self-inflicted as Man City show mentality of champions’

Chelsea and manager Mauricio Pochettino remain unable to shake off the unwanted label of nearly men after suffering their latest agonising Wembley defeat in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.

It may seem harsh but the brutal reality is that Chelsea and Pochettino came up short once more on the big occasion, the pain even more acute because again so many of their wounds were self-inflicted.

Chelsea were left to regret a host of missed chances were they were undone by a youthful and injury-ravaged Liverpool in the Carabao Cup Final in February. And they had that “what might have been” feeling on repeat here after Bernardo Silva’s late goal sent holders City into another FA Cup final.

They will also tell a hard luck story after referee Michael Oliver’s declined to award a penalty after the video assistant referee studied what looked like a handball by Jack Grealish from Cole Palmer’s second-half free-kick before deciding no offence had been committed.

Chelsea will also know they had enough chances to make those penalty claims irrelevant but, as against Liverpool, chances came and went – mainly because of misfiring striker Nicolas Jackson.

When that happens you leave the door open to the ruthlessness of a great team, even if that great team is jaded and seemingly playing from muscle memory.

That was the case with City were following their own gruelling efforts in the Champions League quarter-final loss on penalties to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

But they took advantage of Chelsea’s misses six minutes from time when Kevin de Bruyne’s cross set up Silva for the winner at the far post. It was a redemptive moment for Silva after his casual chipped penalty, easily saved by keeper Andriy Lunin, played a key part in that Champions League exit.

Pochettino is still pursuing a first trophy in England, another chance of silverware escaping him to maintain a record that places him in the category of very good managers but not a member of the elite group.

He had Chelsea well-organised and motivated but the bottom line is that his team once again failed to win when it mattered, especially disappointing as they would then have felt quietly confident of victory in the final against either Coventry City or Manchester United on 18 May.

Pochettino clearly felt Chelsea had been served up a huge injustice in that penalty incident but Jackson’s wayward finishing kept City afloat when they seemed to be sinking under the weight of fatigue.

Jackson is a smooth runner with pace but lacks a ruthless edge in front of goal when it matters, especially in the first half when he tried to go around City keeper Stefan Ortega rather then shoot, then when he allowed two more big openings to go to waste in the second half.

This was the deciding factor. Yes, City showed the mentality of champions to stick in and win but the conditions were in place for Chelsea emerge victorious and they blew it again.

It remains one of the huge flaws in the great scattergun, dysfunctional transfer spree embarked upon by Chelsea in the Todd Boehly era that none of this wild free-spending has homed in on a reliable striker.

This is more than an oversight. It borders on negligence and, as against Liverpool, it haunted them against City.

Wembley was once a happy hunting ground for Chelsea but it has turned into a nightmare in recent seasons, losing the 2019 League Cup final to Manchester City, the 2020 FA Cup final to Arsenal, the 2021 FA Cup final to Leicester City, the 2022 League and FA Cup finals to Liverpool on penalties after goalless draws, this season’s League Cup final to Liverpool and now this.

Chelsea have failed to score in five of their past six games at Wembley.

In Pochettino’s defence, there are signs that Chelsea are moving in the right direction but the record at the pressure points this season demonstrate that this is a work in progress for all the lavish building.

Pochettino, if he is to fashion the finished product, will need time and patience. The big question is whether he will be afforded it.

It was a tribute to City’s pedigree and in-built resistance required by every elite team that they dug in long enough to deliver the semi-final’s decisive moment but the lingering memory, a bad one, for Chelsea is that they let Pep Guardiola’s team off the hook.

City were short of their usual energy and quality, understandable given their exertions on Wednesday, Guardiola enraged by the fact they had to play their semi-final on Saturday while Manchester United and Coventry City, with no European commitments, play here on Sunday.

City pulled it out because they have the proven track record of winners who know how to get the job done even when they are suffering. Chelsea and Pochettino have not.

And the difference was there for all to see once more as City move into position for another domestic Premier League and FA Cup double.

Adblock test (Why?)