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  • Writer's pictureJourneyman

Fine Dining

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea (FA Cup Semi Final)

All the news this week has been about the scrapping of replays and (more importantly) the FA’s decision not to consolidate with the EFL and over 700 nationwide clubs as they instead asked twenty teams from the Premier League to decide next seasons fate. From round one onwards no replays are needed, they get in the way of all that European football the big six and friends like to play, f*ck Blyth Spartans and Chesterfield… We’ve got our eyes on Lille, Leverkusen and Levski Sofia.

The FA Cup has certainly lost its magic for me… And because of that, along with the price of the game these days and the persistence of using ten subs a match along with the painfully over-used poor practice of VAR, this will be my last season as a Wembley member, but I’ll be going out with a bang, with back-to-back semi’s and a night out in London with an old friend, let’s make a weekend of it and ignore the hate for now, just football, beer and fun.

Daz is picking me up at 10am, a quick cup of coffee as we wait for my mrs to get back from the gym before I’m unleashed off dog duty, we take the M1 to Stanmore where he wants to park his car for the weekend so we can get on the tube, drop our bags in the hotel and head back north for a game that kicks off at 5:15pm.

We’re in Russell Square for lunch and have a pint in the Friend at Hand before heading up the Metropolitan Line to Wembley Stadium where we have it all laid on, eat and drink as much as you like I feel the football is going to be a less significant sideshow today.

The Venue

The fans are stopping at the top of the steps of Wembley Park Station to take photos, we’ve a couple of hours to kick off but walk down the Olympic Way through the traffic of sky and navy blue and under the steps into Club Wembley’s entrance.

They’ve made a few changes to improve the queuing system and in fairness it works as we enter further back but are straight through the barriers and up the escalator within minutes, before arriving at the Venue Restaurant, a fine dining type of place where you can help yourself to as many starters, mains and desserts as you like, with booze on tap as and when you need it.

The next hour and half is about drinking, eating, chatting, quaffing, there’s a programme on the table, I’ve a lanyard over my neck, it’s certainly prawn sandwich but you wouldn’t believe you’re in a football arena. No after dinner speakers, no celebs, no smoke or sawdust of years gone by, just top chefs and busy waitresses with good, no great, food and drink.

I always say it’s what you expect the world’s best sporting arena to be, the finest dining experience you can get at a football ground, after all Wembley Stadium is iconic, and so it all should be.

Finally, after bellies are fuelled and bladders are emptied, we make our way down to the seats, ahead of the game, just, both teams and sets of supporters in shades of blue, the atmosphere feels disappointing, underwhelming, but the stadium in sunlight magnificent, I still don’t believe that the semi-finals of the FA Cup should be played at Wembley, as it takes the gloss of the final itself, but what a place to play football, as Chelsea start strong.

The Game

I’ve been watching Wembley finals since 2018 when Chelsea beat Manchester United with an Eden Hazard penalty to win the FA Cup, since then, I’ve seen Chelsea five times at Wembley, and they haven’t scored a goal.

But today feels different, they start with attacking intent and look good on the break, Nicolas Jackson is causing problems with his pace, but he never looks like scoring, a player who has all the tools bar a) confidence and b) finishing ability.

Phil Foden goes close as he rounds the keeper but his dink from a wide angle is cleared by the head of Cucarella, Cole Palmer dances into box at the other end but can’t beat Ortega with a low effort, by half time we’ve been entertained by a decent performance and of the two sides, we agree Chelsea have played the best.

The Score

It’s a bit of a walk to the upstairs restaurant where our half time drinks and cheesecake are waiting. We manage like the many in the middle seats below the Royal Box to make it only five minutes into the second half. Another reason why the semi’s shouldn’t be played here, most fans (or shall we call them corporate guests) prefer to not even bother coming out for the second half. I don’t like it, I do it, but I also watch up to 100 non league games a season without missing a beat, this is my day off to enjoy a little more than the show on offer.

And it’s not been the best show, yes Chelsea are good, City disappoint, perhaps they’re tired from their Champions League exit on Wednesday, they keep the ball, probe and pass, they aren’t the most exciting watch in England due to the way they look to patiently grind teams down, but they are technically fabulous, Kevin De Bruyne is more instrumental, Jack Grealish combines with Phil Foden who’s shot is saved well, and eventually, as Chelsea begin themselves to huff and puff, City get their break through, Bernardo Silva right place, right time, after good work by De Bruyne see’s the ball eventually fall into his path.

That’s enough to be the difference, at 1-0 there’s only going to be one winner, in the end they’ve had to be patient, but City just do, what City do.

The Stars

Pep Guardiola’s side are an impressive machine of players who can simply fit into whichever system they choose to operate. Likened to a high end Olympic compatible bike, Kevin De Bruyne is the back wheel that makes things happen when fully in motion, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish are the pedals you press down to get the best out of that wheel, Ake and Akanji the stabilisers when needed, Walker and Stones the breaks at the back, Rodri and Silva the handles that steer you back to parity when things don’t quite go your way.

Chelsea were impressive and if this team can stick together under ‘Poch’ then they will have a chance to do something special next season, Jackson up top is raw and if nurtured could be a twenty goal a season striker, Cole Palmer is excellent, drifting into pockets and looking to make things happen, defensively they look much better when the great Thiago Silva plays centre half.

The Verdict

Despite losing to Real Madrid, City still have a league and cup double to play for and both competitions are realistic this season to win. Chelsea have the tools now to potentially grow, as a young team which needs a couple of experienced tweaks, they still look short for a title push next season, but they could certainly be back in the Champions League before too long, with potentially some silverware from a cup or two, coming back to Stamford Bridge soon.

The Teams

Manchester City: Stefan Ortega, Kyle Walker, John Stones (Ruben Dias 46), Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish (Jeremy Doku 65), Julian Alvarez (Oscar Bobb 88).

Chelsea: Dorde Petrovic, Malo Gusto (Axel Disasi 79), Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Marc Cucarella (Ben Chilwell 88), Moises Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez (Raheem Sterling 88), Noni Madueke (Mykhailo Mudryk 79), Cole Palmer, Conor Gallagher, Nicolas Jackson.

5:15pm Kick Off. Saturday 20th April 2024, Wembley Stadium, London (80,902).

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