PALACE exited the FA Cup at the semi-final stage after a close-fought battle with Chelsea.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s thunderbolt finish dragged the Blues out of a sluggish performance and into a 16th FA Cup final, with Mason Mount’s angled effort sealing the deal.
England midfielder Loftus-Cheek spent the 2017-18 season on loan with the Eagles, even forcing his way to the World Cup after his campaign at Selhurst Park.
But the 26-year-old showed no split loyalty in dumping his former side out of England’s premier cup competition.
Loftus-Cheek’s first Chelsea goal since the 1-1 Europa League draw with Eintracht Frankfurt on May 9, 2019 spurred the Blues on past their clear fatigue and into yet another final.
Chelsea relinquished their Champions League crown despite beating Real Madrid 3-2 at the Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday night, only exiting the European stage 5-4 on aggregate and after extra time.
That fourth period of extra time in a punishing season took its clear toll as Chelsea struggled to hit their usual straps against Patrick Vieira’s well-organised and talented Eagles.
Just when Vieira’s men started to threaten an upset, however, up popped Loftus-Cheek with a powerful drive.
Chelsea nerves finally settled, Mount quickly latched onto Timo Werner’s inside ball and slotted home to kill the contest.
Loftus-Cheek excelled in a hybrid role mixing right wing-back and midfield in Chelsea’s 6-0 thrashing of Southampton and that vainglorious win in Madrid.
But at Wembley the Chelsea academy graduate was forced into action in defensive midfield, after Mateo Kovacic sustained an ankle problem in the early exchanges.
And this opportunist finish showcased another side of his talents, for a man who suffered a nasty torn Achilles in a friendly match at New England Revolution in Boston on May 16, 2019.
Loftus-Cheek has only just this season started to hit his full straps again after an operation to repair that Achilles, and subsequent back concerns.
His match-turning strike here therefore certainly deserves to be seen as a major turning point in his Stamford Bridge career.
Chelsea’s midweek exploits carried a clear toll on the sluggish Blues, who could not drive the tempo or the rhythm in a staccato first half.
Thomas Tuchel’s men simply did not move the ball quickly or crisply enough, allowing Palace to shut them out through regimented defending and relatively high pressing.
Losing the influential Kovacic did not help matters, with the Croatia star unable to run off an early blow.
The Eagles even had the best chance of the half, when Cheikhou Kouyate’s volleyed drive forced Edouard Mendy into a fine save.
Joachim Andersen struck a post with the rebound but was clearly offside in any case.
Kai Havertz was booked for a blatant dive in Chelsea’s low point of the half, the Germany forward taking a tumble in expecting a challenge from Marc Guehi that never came.
Werner should have opened the second half with at least a shot on target but was muscled out by Kouyate when sent in on goal by Loftus-Cheek’s flicked pass.
Chelsea could not build on that opening however, and Kouyate nodded a corner the wrong side of the post after Wilfried Zaha had turned Andreas Christensen inside out.
The Blues had to pull something from nowhere, and Loftus-Cheek’s thunderous strike certainly appeared from precious little.
Tyrick Mitchell was robbed deep in his own half and Chelsea refused to waste that gift of possession.
Havertz’s deflected cross fell kindly for Loftus-Cheek, and he lashed home.
His exuberant celebrations in punching the air and launching himself off the ground exhibited as much relief as elation.
Mount quickly doubled Chelsea’s lead with a fine angled finish into the corner of the net to kill the tie and cement the Blues’ path to yet another FA Cup final.
Substitute striker Romelu Lukaku struck a post from point-blank range after Werner’s pass, but by that point the miss did not matter.
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