This weekend's 140th FA Cup final appears to be a straightforward affair, with Chelsea in imperious form. But as Stephen Tudor explains, finals from yesteryear tells us different.
"In three of the last seven finals the team who scored first went on to lose and this recent trend of comebacks plays well into the Foxes’ hands."
FA Cup finals have lost a lot of their magical lustre in modern times and the reasons for this are three-fold.
Firstly, it hardly helps the competition's status when it shares the billing with league commitments. This devalues English football's marquee event at a stroke.
Secondly, a domination of the tournament by elite clubs boasting hefty squads in the Premier League era has meant fairy tales are at an absolute premium. In the 21st century it feels like Arsenal and Chelsea have divvied up the cup between them with Manchester City getting the odd look in.
Lastly, we're not children anymore. We're gnarly, cynical grown-ups and we'd feel very silly running into the back garden post-game to recreate the winning goal.
Yet while all of the above is true, the FA Cup final remains a cherished contest so unique it has forged its own distinct identity down the years, to the point of having its very own formbook. It's a special occasion where things typically happen that wouldn't in a league encounter.
With that in mind, our best approach as we try to pick out a winner from Chelsea and Leicester is to first head down the orthodox route. Acknowledge how phenomenal the Blues have been since their dramatic transformation under Thomas Tuchel and especially factor in their seemingly impenetrable defence. Recognise too, how hit-and-miss the Foxes have become of late after a barnstorming two-thirds of a season.
Then we must analyse the fixture itself. The patterns it invariably throws up. It's DNA.
Because for games of this magnitude the past can often inform the future.
League form matters
It's one of the most pertinent questions when looking ahead to a major final: to what extent does league form leading up to the big day influence the outcome?
A deep dive into previous FA Cup finals reveals that it does indeed have an impact and this is bad news for Leicester who would have been hoping their 4-2 capitulation to Newcastle last Friday would have little bearing on this, a one-off event at Wembley.
The last ten teams to lift the trophy went into their respective finals having accrued a combined 123 points from their preceding six league games. The runners-up gained 89 points.
For all that we like to believe that a cup final is a separate entity; even a welcome respite, in reality confidence - or a debilitating lack of - carries over.
Using Tuchel's appointment in late-January as a starting point, Chelsea have kept 18 clean sheets in 25 games and have lost only twice in all competitions. They've been highly organized and immensely difficult to beat. Frankly, their form has been little short of imperious.
In comparison, Leicester have lost or drawn exactly 50% of their games in that period as their top four fight begins to tense up the muscles and jangle the nerves.
Expect it to be tight
The ratio of goals in this famous fixture across the past 20 years is surprisingly healthy, equating to 2.5 per game. It should be noted however that Manchester City's 6-0 battering of Watford and Arsenal's four-goal deconstruction of Aston Villa are both doing a lot of heavy lifting.
Because elsewhere we predominantly see a string of 1-0s and 2-1s with only four finals won by more than a single goal margin.
This should suit Chelsea just fine having quickly perfected the art of winning on a regular basis but not comprehensively so. In their 17 victories under Tuchel only once have they scored more than two goals.
With 58.6% of their goals arriving in the first-half we cannot discount the possibility of a rather dull scenario playing out this Saturday, as Chelsea swiftly gain an advantage then pull the shutters down for the duration. It's an inkling that only strengthens when it's noted that Leicester have been breached 14 times across all competitions inside the opening 25 minutes.
Come back to what you know
But wait, because here the FA Cup final's DNA potentially comes to our rescue, sparing us neutrals the prospect of a thoroughly predictable ninety minutes.
In three of the last seven finals the team who scored first went on to lose and this recent trend of comebacks plays well into the Foxes' hands - or paws if we're being pedantic - because Brendan Rodgers' side have shown they have plenty of resilience this term.
On 18 occasions they have gone behind in the league. They ultimately drew five and won five.
Furthermore, 34.9% of their goal-haul in 2020/21 have been scored after the 75th minute illustrating their ability to wear opponents down and find a way. Add to this hypothesis that 20% of FA Cup final goals over the last 20 years have been converted between the 80th and 90th minute and late drama perhaps awaits us.
Should the Blues go in front head to the in-play market and back a seemingly unlikely Leicester turn-around at generous odds
A nailed-on pen
When trying to determine who might be responsible for such drama, again the fixture's legacy gives us valuable clues.
Cliché has it that finals are usually decided by big game hunters; strikers who thrive on the biggest stages and delight in grabbing the headlines. If this were so, then surely our attention should turn to Kelechi Iheanacho, who has bagged 13 in his last ten appearances, making him the most prolific player at present in Europe.
Yet, in the last ten FA Cup finals, forwards can only take credit for 26% of the goals, with midfielders typically deciding matters.
If this prompts doubt as to the goal-scorers what we can be absolutely, almost, definitely, maybe certain about is that a penalty will feature at some point.
Only Manchester United have notched more spot-kicks than Leicester this season while Chelsea have been awarded one every 3.8 games.
In two of the last three cup finals penalties have been given and it's extremely relevant that Michael Oliver is officiating at the weekend. He has pointed to the spot a staggering 16 times this term, which equates to a pen every 146 minutes.
A pretty standard 5/2 is available for a penalty to be scored. In this context however, it's a great shout
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Backing Chelsea to prevail at 19/20 is a pragmatic choice
Take a shrewd punt on a pen at 5/2