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Chelsea find form to restore confidence ahead of FA Cup final

C

helsea put themselves on the brink of Champions League qualification to send them into Saturday’s FA Cup Final with the pressure eased from their shoulders.

A 3-0 win against 10-men Leeds means they need just one point from their remaining two games to secure a top four finish. It should never have come to this, with the hangover from their Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid last month sending them into an end of season spiral.

But Thomas Tuchel can breathe more easily now – and this victory, only their second in their last six games, could provide the perfect tonic ahead of their Wembley showdown with Liverpool.

While they cannot hope for Jurgen Klopp’s quadruple-chasers to provide anything like as flimsy opposition as Jesse Marsch’s sorry side, the confidence of a dominant performance could be telling.

Reece James was in irresistible form – rolling over Leeds with his powering runs down the wing. Mason Mount produced a display that was full of menace.

And there was another goal for Romelu Lukaku to leave Tuchel with a selection headache at the weekend.

Christian Pulisic may have also pushed himself into a start against Liverpool, with a sweetly-finished goal of his own.

It was a good night for many in blue – and for Tuchel, victory will come as a relief after their alarming recent slump risked dragging them into a three-way fight for the last two remaining places in the race for Europe’s top table.

The Chelsea manager was so incensed by his side’s failure to hold onto a two-goal lead against Wolves at the weekend that he cancelled the players’ day off on Sunday.

Hardly the ideal backdrop going into their Wembley date and a last chance to put some gloss on a campaign that has been allowed to fall away.

But that angst will be replaced by positive vibes – and who knows what effect that could have against a Liverpool team with bigger priorities than the FA Cup?

Any hope of success in that match will hinge on the axis of James and Mount down the right.

Leeds had no answer to their link-up play, which provided Chelsea’s opener after just four minutes.

Chelsea players were lining up after the visitors worked the ball from left to right from inside their own half to James outside the Leeds box.

He looked up and cut the ball back to Mount on the edge of the area, to curl a shot high into the top corner. The stage was set for Chelsea to put the game to bed early on.

The biggest danger appeared to be how many of their players would escape unscathed as Leeds recklessly flew into tackles, with Dan James sent off after 24 minutes for a vicious challenge on Mateo Kovacic.

The Croatia midfielder limped off the pitch shortly after, with an ankle injury that Tuchel predicted will rule him out on Saturday.

Amid the chaos of Leeds’ tackling, Chelsea were effective in instilling calm control in the second half.

Pulisic’s strike on 55 mintues was a perfect example of that with James, Jorginho and Mount all combining in the build-up. Pulisic eventually collected Mount’s flick just outside the box and curled a low shot past Illan Meslier.

Tuchel could relax. There would surely be no repeat of the Wolves capitulation – and he took the opportunity to take James and Pulisic out of the firing line.

But there was still time for Chelsea to extend their lead.

Lukaku had worked hard all night, but his finishing had let him down. Still, his determination to add to his two goals against Wolves was admirable.

When Mount won the ball on the halfway line in the 83rd minute, Chelsea poured forward in search for more.

Substitute Hakim Ziyech found Lukaku in the box – and although the striker looked to have let the chance pass, he kept his composure to blast through a crowded box.

It will be hard for Tuchel to leave him out of his starting line-up versus Liverpool after three goals in his last two games. But after a problematic few weeks, that is a welcome one to have.

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