Bravura Leicester make Wembley erupt in a huge, hot wall of sound


With 63 minutes gone at Wembley Luke Thomas, an academy kid from Syston and still only 19, picked up a loose pass and fed it forward to Youri Tielemans in a sudden pocket of green space.

Tielemans is the one note of real high-end quality in Leicester City’s midfield. In a goalless opening hour at Wembley he had been tight and defensively smart.

Leicester had yet to muster a genuine shot on target but they carried a fast-breaking threat. Tielemans himself had produced four snaking crosses from a deep position on the left, looking for space down the side of Chelsea’s back three. Now he had some grass in front of him. He started to run.

The FA Cup final has its own history of impossibly vivid goals. It’s a Wembley thing too. In the old stadium there was something about the basic structure of the netting that just seemed to urge the ball to come clanking down out of those sacred corners.

Wembley feels big. That wide open space behind the goals just seems to invite shots from distance. Tielemans found himself beckoned on towards it, heading into the Leicester end, which had already begun to bristle. He took another few steps and looked up.

Until that moment this Cup final had been a tight, gripping thing, given a shot of life by the surprise of all that energy from the stands.

This was the other story at Wembley. Fourteen months on from the shift into the plague times, with its robot crowds and touchline screams, its synthesised intensity, something strange happened. A football match broke out.

There was a nice moment as the Leicester players came out before kick-off and the western end of this vast grey bowl was suddenly alive, a wave of warmth rolling around the scattered Leicester City supporters.

Fans always clap their teams. But this was something else, a kind of embrace. There was a huge stored-up ovation for Tielemans and Jamie Vardy as they waved and clapped and drank in that heat. At times the sound of a real human crowd felt like having your ears syringed after a year of digital buzz.

Chelsea dominated possession for much of the first half as Leicester fell back into a five-strong defensive bolt. Timo Werner took up his familiar position on the halfway line, crouched in the starting blocks for a pass over the top. Time and again he found Wesley Fofana there next to him, a defender with the rare ability to match him over those short distances.

Twice Fofana produced wonderful full-stretch blocks inside the penalty area. What a player he is, and what rich dividend for Leicester’s scouting and coaching networks: a central defender who looks capable of playing anywhere, of taking his game to whatever level he chooses.

For all their possession Chelsea were blunt in attack. There may be slower wing-back pairings in elite-level football than Marcos Alonso and César Azpilicueta but none spring to mind. At various times in this game Chelsea had six different high-class attackers on the pitch, but it was still hard to see how exactly they were hoping to score a goal.

After half-time Leicester began to push a little harder and to play further up the pitch. It was from that advanced position on the left that the pass from Thomas ended up with Tielemans. The FA Cup has a history of great goals, of long shots, of nets bulged. As Tielemans measured his final stride the crowd began to rise with that familiar feeling of time starting to slow, energy being displaced.

Tielemans looked up and saw Kepa Arrizabalaga in the centre of his goal, still 25 yards away. There was only one way for this one to go: diagonally, right to left, the ball rising and fading away from Kepa’s right hand, then meeting the top corner with that bravura bulge.

The noise inside Wembley was extraordinary in that moment, a clamour that erupted into a huge, hot wall of sound as the Leicester players ran to the crowd. Has there ever been a better Cup final-winning goal than this? It is hard to remember one that stands out so starkly, a moment of clarity and space in the middle of all that high-grade hustle.

There was still time for another pea-brained intervention from VAR. Ben Chilwell’s apparent equaliser was ruled out after another line-drawing exercise. Chilwell had been deemed offside by a millimetre or two (for which he gained no advantage).

As ever this is based on the bogus notion that the VAR can judge to a minutely precise degree the moment when a ball is kicked. It is simply bad science, although this time there was no dilution of drama in the stadium, as both sets of fans and players got to celebrate the moment wildly.

Somehow Leicester were always going to hang on, helped by one supreme one-handed save from Kasper Schmeichel. Football got something back here too, in a game given its grace note by a goal fit to join that fond old folksy pantheon of Cup final bangers.