THOMAS TUCHEL demanded that Ruben Loftus-Cheek starts living up to his full potential – and the midfield man responded by ramming Chelsea towards their fifth FA Cup final in six years.
Loftus-Cheek, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Crystal Palace four years ago, broke the resistance of Patrick Vieira’s men with a 65th-minute opener as the Blues booked a date with Liverpool here at Wembley on May 14.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrated in style after his powerful opener for ChelseaCredit: Paul Marriott
Ruben Loftus-Cheek scores Chelsea’s opener early in the second half with a thumping strikeCredit: Reuters
Mason Mount added a second soon after.
And Chelsea now hope to avoid becoming the first club in the competition’s 150-year history to lose three successive finals when they take on Jurgen Klopp’s Quad-chasers in a repeat of this season’s Carabao Cup Final.
Eight of Tuchel’s starting line-up had played in Chelsea’s epic near miss against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
They looked leggy and lethargic for large parts of a forgettable contest after that Champions League quarter-final went to extra-time.
Palace had created the only couple of serious chances before Loftus-Cheek, who played for England at the last World Cup, netted his powerful opener.
Loftus-Cheek is still frequently referred to as a promising youngster – but he is 26 now and endured a stinking loan spell in Fulham’s relegation campaign last term.
He played at right wing-back in impressive Chelsea displays in Southampton and Madrid over the past eight days and here he arrived as an early sub and impressed in midfield as Tuchel’s side kept alive their final hope of winning more silverware this season.
It was clear which set of supporters appreciated the occasion more – Palace’s army, glad all over, smoked out one end of Wembley with pyrotechnics and a huge banner declaring a “South London Takeover”.
The Chelsea contingent, meanwhile, barely managed more than a shoulder shrug.
Tuchel’s players were as flat as their fans during the first half – patient but punchless – and they lost Mateo Kovacic to injury early on, Loftus-Cheek replacing the Croat.
Half an hour passed without an effort on goal and when it arrived, Cesar Azpilicueta badly miscued an attempted volley from a Timo Werner cross.
Palace had looked threatening on the break without carving out a chance.
But on 36 minutes, Edouard Mendy was forced into action, diving low to his left and pushing out a well-struck Cheikhou Kouyate volley.
Mendy then smartly blocked Joachim Andersen’s follow-up effort, although an offside flag had been raised.
When Chelsea did finally get within range of the Palace goal, they managed only embarrassment.
Kai Havertz was rightly booked for diving by ref Anthony Taylor, after the German brushed against Marc Guehi and flung himself to the deck on the edge of the area.
After the break, Kouyate came close again – rising to meet an Eberechi Eze corner but heading wide from six yards out when he ought to have hit the target.
But then came Loftus-Cheek’s marquee moment as Chelsea finally mustered their first serious effort on goal, 65 minutes in.
Palace’s new England left-back Tyrick Mitchell was caught dithering and lost possession to Azpilicueta and when Havertz’s attempted centre cannoned off a defender, Loftus-Cheek leathered his shot past Jack Butland, via a deflection off Guehi.
Despite their lethargy up until that point, a Chelsea victory suddenly felt inevitable.
And 11 minutes later, the second arrived – Mount exchanged passes with Werner and Joachim Andersen waved the England man through, allowing him to side-foot home with ease.
Andersen might have made amends soon after, but the Danish defender headed over at the back stick from a corner.
But sub Romelu Lukaku struck the post from close range in the 90th minute as Chelsea threatened to run up a flattering scoreline.
Mason Mount sealed Chelsea win as he slotted home his side’s second goalCredit: Getty
Chelsea celebrated wildly as Mason Mount’s goal all-but killed off the FA Cup semi-finalCredit: Getty
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