Doing a Leicester: to achieve the seemingly impossible, to make light of ridiculous odds. Things have changed somewhat since 2016 and the most outlandish title triumph of all time, with Leicester having levelled the playing field through astute recruitment and the excellent coaching of Brendan Rodgers. But doing a Leicester continues to represent the challenging and toppling of the elite.
Rodgers and his players pulled it off here. They did it for themselves and for their supporters but also, perhaps, for every club that dreams of gate-crashing the establishment, the ones with all the money, who would break away to form a closed-shop cartel given a fair wind under the cover of a global health crisis.
In their 137-year history, Leicester had never previously won the FA Cup. They had reached four finals and lost them all. But everything changed on an occasion that built to a dramatic crescendo, when destiny seemed to drag Leicester over the line.
Their goal was a firecracker and it was supplied on 63 minutes by Youri Tielemans. Up until then, it had been an extremely cagey game but the midfielder blew the doors off after seeing a Reece James clearance hit Ayoze Pérez – possibly on the arm – and Luke Thomas roll the ball into him.
Tielemans put everything into the shot. He had scored 16 times for Leicester previously but this one will live forever.
The connection was perfect and it flew into the top corner beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea’s cup goalkeeper, who stretched for the ball with his wrong hand.
At last, the gloves were off and we had a final. The pantomime villain of the piece was Ben Chilwell, the one-time Leicester full-back, who Chelsea brought on as a 67th minute substitute. The Leicester fans, who formed a noisy part of a 21,000 crowd, jeered his every touch.
Chilwell thought he had forced an equaliser not once but twice. First, he rose to head towards the bottom corner only for Kasper Schmeichel to throw out a hand and claw the ball to safety. And, after Schmeichel had brilliantly repelled a Mason Mount half-volley, we had the heart-stopping late controversy.
Chilwell burst up the left to meet a Thiago Silva pass and prod across goal and it was then fate intervened. Calgar Soyuncu swiped at the clearance and sent the ball straight at Wes Morgan, the Leicester stalwart who had just entered as a substitute for his first action since last December. It hit Morgan and went in.
And yet VAR was not happy. The technology flagged up an offside against Chilwell and Leicester, after five nerve-shredding minutes of stoppage time, could celebrate wildly.
For Schmeichel, who grew up watching his father, Peter, win this competition with Manchester United and who lifted the trophy together with Morgan, it was a dream fulfilled. But the same could be said of all of Leicester’s heroes, from Thomas, so composed at 19 years old, to Jamie Vardy, who never stopped running at 34. Wesley Fofana was a rock in central defence.
For Rodgers, it was a first trophy in English football after seven in Scotland with Celtic and the records show that he has won each of his seven finals as a manager, including the Championship play-off with Swansea in 2011. His players threw him into the air during the delirious post-match scenes and he will now want to close out a stunning season with a Champions League finish. Next up for his team is Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday – another seismic game.
Chelsea knew only misery. When they were soundly beaten by Leicester at the King Power Stadium in January, it was the prompt for them to replace Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel. Pretty much everything has gone perfectly for the new broom, although last Wednesday’s home defeat to Arsenal was a blip.
This was a first major setback and the hope from Tuchel’s side has to be that his team can recover in the rematch against Leicester to ensure they finish in the Premier League’s top four. The margins for error are zero. Beyond that, of course, is the Champions League final against Manchester City. The success or failure of the season rests on a knife-edge.
The atmosphere pulsed throughout with this the biggest spectator event in the United Kingdom for 14 long months, although it was jarring in the extreme to hear boos mixing with cheers when the players took a pre-match knee to support the fight against racism.
For long spells, the fear of making an error weighed heavily and how the spectacle suffered. There was not much of an appetite for taking on an opponent or risking the ball.
Tuchel played James on the right of his defensive three, with César Azpilicueta outside of him, mainly because he needed the youngster’s pace against Vardy. The game’s first chance followed a Tielemans pass and a Timothy Castagne cross which Vardy met with a first-time shot, having held his run superbly. James blocked.
Mount flickered in the first half, sparking the best of a limited crop of chances for Chelsea with a cross on the half hour that led to Silva dinking back towards the far post. Timo Werner stretched for the header and made the faintest of connections only to take the ball away from Azpilicueta, who was better placed behind him. It was another one of those days for Werner in front of goal.
Tielemans would show him how and, as Leicester cavorted about at the end, the Chelsea players stared blankly into the distance. They must use the pain as a spur.