Chelsea v Liverpool
Saturday 14 May, 16:45
Live on BBC One
Wembley joy can save Blues' season
It was supposed to be the season when Chelsea returned to title contention, having won the Champions League by beating the winners of the Premier League. It was meant to be the season when Thomas Tuchel built on his excellent work in the first few months of his reign. It was expected that having fired Inter to the Scudetto in Italy, Romelu Lukaku would have a similar effect on his hotly-anticipated return to Stamford Bridge.
As we know, the reality has been somewhat different, but perhaps that's down to the extraordinary pace set by Manchester City and Liverpool, rather than serious flaws on Chelsea's part. After all, they added the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup to their trophy collection, and they have almost certainly qualified for next season's Champions League.
The uncertainty caused by Roman Abramovich's sale of the club has clearly had an effect, and although Lukaku has never looked a bad player, he hasn't looked like the same guy that rag-dolled defenders on a regular basis in Serie A. Add in serious injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James, and you can see why the stratospheric performance levels of the top two haven't been replicated.
As well as winning the Champions League in his first season, Tuchel has now taken Chelsea to three domestic finals. They lost last season's FA Cup final to Leicester City and were squeezed out on penalties by Liverpool in this season's League Cup showpiece.
Chelsea are hopeful that key midfielder Mateo Kovacic will recover in time to feature, after he was poleaxed by a hyped-up Daniel James in the midweek win at Leeds United.
N'Golo Kanté is also a doubt, so Chelsea may have to partner Jorginho with Reuben Loftus-Cheek at the heart of midfield. Lukaku has suddenly started scoring goals, and he caused Liverpool a few issues in the League Cup final, so he may get the nod in attack.
Quadruple bid is clinging to life
Liverpool could still win the quadruple, and we are speeding towards the middle of May. It is a positively Herculean achievement, especially when you consider that in the last five seasons, the Reds' net spend in the transfer market has been lower than that of both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Everton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Aston Villa.
A squad has been carefully constructed and then superbly managed by Jürgen Klopp, and Liverpool have reaped the rewards. Champions of Europe in 2019, champions of England in 2020 for the first time in 30 years. This truly is a golden age for Liverpool fans.
And yet it could still be a disappointing end to the campaign. Manchester City are realistically one win away from their fourth Premier League crown in five seasons, and Liverpool face tough opposition in this FA Cup final and in the Champions League final against a Real Madrid side that has consistently defied football logic to squeeze past PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City.
This month could contain memorable glory for Klopp's men, or the bitter taste of opportunities missed.
There is so much to admire about the way Liverpool have performed this season. They have scored 89 goals in the Premier League, conceding just 24, and they have won 26 of their 36 top-flight matches.
They go into this final with a 15-match unbeaten run, and even that was a 1-0 loss to Inter in the Champions League that proved irrelevant. Including their penalty shootout victory against Chelsea in the League Cup final, they have won 25 of their last 30 competitive matches.
Mo Salah was rested in midweek against Aston Villa, and is expected to return to the XI here. Fabinho was injured in that 2-1 win, and will miss out. Joel Matip will probably get the nod ahead of Ibrahima Konate in central defence.
Liverpool fair favourites, but Chelsea can make them work
Liverpool are 2.1511/10 to win this inside 90 minutes, but all three of the clubs' meetings this seasons have been draws, and the League Cup clash between them at Wembley in February went all the way to penalties.
Liverpool have outperformed Chelsea over the course of the season, but that doesn't mean that Chelsea aren't a dangerous side that can push them really hard at a neutral venue.
I'll back Chelsea/Draw in the Double Chance market (Home or Draw) at 1.855/6. We get a winner if Chelsea win in 90 minutes or the final goes to extra time. It may well be that Liverpool are too strong for Chelsea in the end, but this is a play on price, as I just think Klopp's side are a bit too short.
Unders bet makes sense
Two of the clubs' three meetings this season have featured fewer than three goals, and Under 2.5 Goals is an attractive price here at 2.01/1. Chelsea's two games against Manchester City in the Premier League this term featured just one goal apiece, as did their Champions League final meeting last season. Chelsea's Club World Cup final against Palmeiras was level at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Tuchel knows how to set a team up defensively, and I can't see him trying to turn this into a firefight. I'm happy to take the Under 2.5 Goals here, even with Liverpool's incredible attacking talent.
Sizzling Sadio can show up
Sadio Mane was the main man of the semi-final as he helped blow away Manchester City with a brace, and he got the winner in midweek at Villa Park. The Senegal star has scored in seven of his last 11 games, and has been eclipsing even Mo Salah recently.
We can back Mane to have a shot on target, and then use the Sportsbook's Bet Builder to back Liverpool to win the Corners Match Bet at 2.47/5. Liverpool have had more corners than Chelsea in all three of their competitive meetings this season, and in the League Cup final the count was 11-2 in Liverpool's favour.