LASESARRE, SPAIN - AUGUST 5: Puma Orbita, the official match ball of LaLiga in detail prior the pre-season friendly match between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad on August 5, 2022 at Lasesarre Stadium in Barakaldo, Spain. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN 195228971

Operation ‘Arrivederci Conte’ reaches its final phase

Chelsea’s band of mercenaries are gearing up to drive the final nail in Antonio Conte’s coffin, and what better way to achieve it that bottling the FA Cup final as one last act of defiance?

Huddled in the centre circle during the warm-up, saboteur-in-chief Eden Hazard runs his masterplan by his co-conspirators Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta.

“Gaz, make sure you get sent off early doors. Nut Pogba or something, alright? Azpi, once Gaz’s been dismissed, lash in an own goal. Make it look accidental. Meanwhile, I’ll do what I’ve done all season: absolutely fucking nothing.”

Five minutes in, Cahill’s storming down the tunnel, Azpilicueta’s scored a glorious volley past his own ‘keeper, while David Luiz gleefully gives Conte the wanker gesture from the stands.

Job done. One seat on the next flight out of Heathrow for Turin, please.

Romelu Lukaku fails a fitness test and José gets creative

If Manchester United top scorer Romelu Lukaku fails a late fitness test ahead of the final, he will present José Mourinho with an interesting conundrum: how will he manage to shoehorn just about anyone into the forward position other than Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford?

Sitting on the team bus mere hours before kick-off, José scribbles away in his notepad, chewing his pen feverishly. Sanchez up top? Sanchez and Lingard in a dovetail? Mata as a false nine?

In the end “Fuck it,” says José, tearing the page out and scrunching it into a ball as he strides into an expectant changing room and points at Scott McTominay. “Scott. Do a job for us up top, big lad. Run. Those. Channels.”

Quietly, Marcus Rashford begins to cry.

Alvaro Morata scores a goal

It’s the 92nd minute. The crowd gasps as a hanging ball is sent into the United box from the right flank. There’s a gaping hole in front of the six-yard box – Chris Smalling is attempting to mark his own shadow – and Alvaro Morata steals into the space.

He rises into the air like a Brylcream-lathered gazelle leaping majestically across the Serengeti, his forehead making perfect contact with the ball, and his header flies past a helpless De Gea. The Chelsea end erupts in a cacophony of jubilant noise. The chants fill Morata’s ears as he wheels off to the corner flag…

“Alvaro? Alvaro?” The room swims sharply back into focus. An indignant Conte snaps his fingers. The entire Chelsea dressing room is staring at Morata. “Did you listen to a fucking word of my team talk or what?”

Mourinho plays his giant Belgian wildcard

Manchester United don’t often go a goal down under José Mourinho, but when they do it usually spells trouble. Chiefly because the Special One’s special plan is to chuck on a certain enormous Belgian with specially-sharpened elbows.

You can see it now. 79 minutes have elapsed. Chelsea are 2-1 up and comfortable. United are chasing the game. Mourinho looks to the bench, tapping his chin with one finger. Swimming through his head are vivid images of Ashley Young planting a pinpoint cross on Fellaini’s afro. The net bulges. Glory! The FA Cup is coming back to Manchester.

Stripped off and warmed up, Fellaini arrives onto the Wembley pitch with instructions to “go out and make a difference”. 90 seconds later, Fellaini is shown a straight red for shattering Marcos Alonso’s eye socket.

Modern football reaches its nadir

United go 1-0 up inside three minutes, José subs off both strikers and reverts to 5-5-0 for the next 87 minutes. Everyone leaves disgruntled and wishes they’d sacked the whole thing off and just watched the Royal Wedding instead.

Afterwards on Talksport, Adrian Durham hosts an irate post-match show during which Stan Collymore bellows into a microphone about how the magic of the FA Cup is dead and it’s all the fault of foreigners. On Twitter, he blocks anyone who rings up to disagree.

Cheer up, the World Cup is on its way.