Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has installed Manchester United as favourites to lift the FA Cup after his side booked their spot in next months final with victory over Premier League strugglers Southampton.
Striker Olivier Giroud boasts an imperious Wembley record – this was his 10th win from as many club matches – and he opened the scoring in stunning style, added to in the final 10 minutes by his replacement Alvaro Morata.
Victory ensured Conte will pit his wits against rival Jose Mourinho in the final on 19 May, although the Italian attempted to play down suggestions that the duel between the two fierce competitors is as significant as the clash itself.
“Last season we played the final and we arrived as favourites against Arsenal,” said Conte. “This season, we are not favourites but I know very well that last season we lost the final, despite being, in my mind, the favourites.
“With Jose, we have clarified the situation and there is not a problem between him and I. But we are talking about two managers with strong characters and we are talking about two winners.
“When in your mind, your heart and your blood there is the will to win then we will try to win this trophy, in the same way that United want to.
“I have great respect for Uniteds and Mourinhos story and I think they have the same respect for Chelseas story and my story.”
Following a tame first half, Chelsea were ahead 30 seconds after the restart as Giroud collected an Eden Hazard pass and, with consummate close control, danced around Maya Yoshida and Cedric Soares, wrong-footed goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and stabbed home.
Hazard was inches off target moments later, while Southampton threatened a leveller only for the chance to dissipate following a heavy Shane Long touch as he attempted to round Chelsea stopper Willy Caballero after Charlie Austins dummy.
A thunderous shot from substitute Nathan Redmond was somehow turned behind by Callallero, while from the resulting corner Austin was penalised for backing into the Argentinian as he fumbled the ball over the goal-line.
Chelsea all but settled matters with eight minutes remaining as Morata rose and planted a downward header beyond McCarthy from Cesar Azpilicuetas centre.
Southampton were not quite done and Austin slid in to fire a shot across goal which hit the far post, while at the other end Moratas scuffed effort was hacked off the line by centre-half Wesley Hoedt.