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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Chelsea get the vote in high-class Wembley final

Arsenal ended the season with five straight wins
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Who wins the FA Cup final?

Steve Davies Racing Post Sport tipster Arsenal have ended the season with five straight wins and got the better of Manchester City in the semis. Not many forecast that and Chelsea will inevitably be a warm order at a sizzling Wembley. But it’s possible the Blues will have lost a little edge after wrapping up the Premier League a couple of weeks back and the Gunners are a decent price to lift the cup.

Didi Hamann FA Cup winner Arsenal. Odds of 7-2 against the Gunners are nuts – they are in sparkling form, scoring goals for fun and while I’ve got nothing but respect for what Chelsea have achieved in the Premier League, this isn’t the league. Both teams know what the other is capable of and that means Chelsea are well aware that Arsenal have players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil who can scare anyone.

Nik Jenkins Betfred odds-compiler I can’t see anything other than a Chelsea win. Arsenal have found form going into the final but they have been beating teams with nothing to play for and now have a defensive crisis that Antonio Conte’s side should make the most of.

Mark Langdon Racing Post digital football editor The prices looked right before Arsenal’s defensive crisis but I am surprised there has not been more of a move towards Chelsea. Laurent Koscielny’s ban is huge – Arsenal conceded once in the 102 minutes he played against Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League and nine goals in the 78 minutes he was absent. There was also 18 points between the teams this season.

Sam Matterface TV & radio commentator Chelsea should run out quite comfortable winners. Arsenal turned Chelsea over 3-0 at the Emirates in September but that was the result that inspired Antonio Conte’s men to go and become Premier League champions, while the head-to-head is definitely in favour of the favourites. Chelsea have won eight of the last 11 competitive meetings.

Where is the Wembley value outside the 90-minutes market?

SD It’s hard to see both teams not scoring given what we know about Arsenal at both ends of the pitch. The Gunners head for Wembley having scored 13 in their last five and Chelsea signed off their league programme by putting four past Watford and five past Sunderland. I’ll go for Arsenal to win and over 2.5 goals at 6-1. 

DH Lay Chelsea to lift the cup. This to me is a one-off game between two top-ranked Premier League sides, and even though Chelsea finished above Arsenal in the table, their price to win the cup is an absolute nonsense. There is no way that reflects the gap between the two teams. If Arsenal are on the ball, there is no better team in England.

NJ N’Golo Kante could be key to a Chelsea win and his price to be man of the match looks good value. Having won the league in successive seasons and all the individual awards this term, he will be in the spotlight once again.  

ML Eden Hazard to be man of the match. He ran riot against Arsenal in the 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge in February and I don’t see Arsene Wenger coming up with a plan to take him out of the game. Hazard turned the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham when he was introduced from the bench and should have been PFA Player of the Year. 

SM I fancy Chelsea to get into Arsenal’s makeshift defence early so there are various ways to go. Chelsea to be leading after 15 minutes, or combine the time of the first Chelsea goal at 0-10 minutes at 10-1 and 11-20 minutes at 9-1. Conte’s men scored 12 times in the first 15 minutes during the Premier League season. 

What’s your best bet for the Sky Bet League Two playoff final? 

SD The League Two semi-finals were tight and it’s hard to find any great advantage for either side in the final. Just a point separated Exeter from Blackpool, who took four points from their earlier meetings this season, but it’s easy to  make too much out of that. Since all four semi-final ties yielded over 3.5 goals, I’ll go for the clean sweep.

DH I said Blackpool before the semis and I’m not deserting them now. After relegation and all their off-the-field issues, I bet there weren’t many expecting it to end at Wembley against Exeter, the side they played on that opening day eight months ago. Gary Bowyer has done wonders and there’s a feelgood factor that will help them up.

NJ Over 3.5 goals. I can’t split the teams but there should be plenty of action. All four semi-final matches contained at least five goals and I can see another end-to-end game.

ML Bookmakers are trying to keep both teams to score on side, but even at 4-6 it looks worth backing. Favourites Exeter are full of goals and possess plenty of quality in the final third, but they have kept only one clean sheet in their last 19 matches. Blackpool have scored nine times in their last three games and this could be a Wembley classic.

SM I like Exeter. They play lovely football and should be suited by the big Wembley pitch, while it could be an odd atmosphere for Blackpool given they will be hugely outnumbered in the stands. Lee Holmes has been to Wembley twice this season – once to watch Southampton and then Anthony Joshua – and he could be one to follow in the last goalscorer market.

And what’s your fancy in the Championship playoff final?

SD David Wagner and Jaap Stam produced tactical masterstrokes to manoeuvre their teams into the final, and it’s that nous which could add up to a cautious affair. Between them these two scored three goals over the course of the semis – including a penalty and an own goal – and have punched above their weight all season. The draw looks a good bet.

DH I just prefer Reading. David Wagner and Jaap Stam got their tactics right in the semis and I think the Dutchman holds the aces. Huddersfield are indifferent and when their hard pressing style doesn’t work they can get taken apart. At a hot Wembley, I’m taking Reading to wear them down.

NJ Reading to be promoted. They’ve been underrated most of the season and despite finishing third and knocking out well-fancied Fulham, find themselves as the outsiders again. Huddersfield rested players towards the end of the season but that doesn’t hide the fact they’ve only gained three wins in their last 12 matches.

ML This will probably be a tight final, but Huddersfield deserve to shade favouritism and I would take them to go up. Reading have made a mockery of shot statistics this season, finishing third in the Championship despite only Rotherham and Barnsley allowing more attempts at their goal, but maybe that luck will run out. 

SM I will be at Wembley for all three finals and I think everyone is expecting this to be close but at the prices I prefer Reading. There is much to be said for a side who just get the job done and I think Jaap Stam has brought a winning mentality. A low-scorer for sure, Reading to win 1-0 with Yann Kermorgant to score. 

Give us a winner for another of the finals this weekend?

SD There are a lot of one-sided looking cup finals this weekend with none likely to be quite as big a mismatch as Barcelona against Alaves. Barca want to give Luis Enrique a fitting send-off and a battering of Alaves would do the trick. They hammered Alaves 6-0 when they last met in February and Barca and over 3.5 goals looks the way to go.

DH I’d be laying Dortmund against Frankfurt, who are a side who won’t get blown away. They were excellent in the first half of the season but have tailed off towards the back end, although focus has been on this game in recent weeks. Dortmund have got a possible managerial change as a backdrop to this and they could be in for a sticky 90 minutes.

NJ Barcelona to win and both teams to score. They are always going to score plenty of goals and should win comfortably but Barca still have their problems at the back. Alaves got a shock 2-1 win at Camp Nou earlier in the season and are capable of getting a consolation goal.

ML Given Celtic’s dominance of the Ladbrokes Premiership – they won the league by 30 points – it could be worth backing them to beat Aberdeen comfortably in the William Hill Scottish Cup final. The Bhoys have won all five matches against Aberdeen this season and four of those saw them in front by the break so I will go for the Celtic-Celtic double result.

SM Brendan Rodgers’ side will probably cover the handicap but I prefer Celtic to win to nil against Aberdeen, just like they did in the League Cup final when it finished 3-0 to the rampant odds-on favourites. The invincible champions are way clear of the rest in Scotland and have conceded only once en route to the final.

Is Wayne Rooney’s England career over?

SD It’s very hard to say ‘yes’ given the lack of quality English strikers around at the moment. An injury to Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy and the 31-year-old is suddenly right back in the mix. And Gareth Southgate, judged by his squads so far, is every bit as predictable as most of us thought he would be, so that certainly keeps Rooney in the frame.

DH I guess there’s always the possibility that England could use a friendly to honour their record goalscorer, and he’s still in the frame for the Scotland game if there are injuries. So to that extent, no. But Rooney – and he knows it – is now very much an afterthought in Gareth Southgate’s planning, especially if he hotfoots it abroad next season.

NJ I think it depends on his next move. If he goes to the MLS or China then he’ll be finished with England, but if he gets plenty of games at a good level then I can see him hanging around until the World Cup.

ML Not necessarily. He needs to leave Manchester United for regular minutes but if he performs well even for a lesser Premier League club he could force his way back in. Age is clearly not a factor for Southgate given Jermain Defoe is in the current squad and, while it is going to be tough, Rooney is England and Manchester United’s greatest goalscorer.

SM Yes, unless there is some sort of ceremonial game and I don’t think there is any chance of Rooney going to the World Cup final in Russia. He may still have an appetite for the game but his touch has gone and I look at the other forwards available to Gareth Southgate – Kane, Defoe, Rashford, Sturridge, Vardy, Welbeck – and they are all ahead of him. 

I fancy Chelsea to get into Arsenal’s makeshift defence early so there are various ways to go.
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