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FA Cup Final: From Waitrose to Wembley… now Brendan Rodgers wants to bag the big prize

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Traditionally the FA Cup final has been about the journey. From first round to last. Up Wembley Way with the TV cameras on board. Then up the steps, hopefully to collect a winner’s medal.

This year’s version is a little different. The season is not yet over, for example.

Saturday’s finalists, Chelsea and Leicester City, meet again in the Premier League on Tuesday and that feels strange.

Brendan Rodgers wants to win Leicester their first-ever FA Cup on Saturday at Wembley

Brendan Rodgers wants to win Leicester their first-ever FA Cup on Saturday at Wembley

But some things do not change. Long roads have been walked by people like Jamie Vardy but Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has made it to Wembley seemingly on fast forward.

And then there is Brendan Rodgers. This is not his first Wembley final. He won the Championship play-offs there with Swansea in 2011. But an FA Cup final feels different and is different, the type of day that can remind people how far they have come.

‘When I stopped playing I worked for the John Lewis partnership in Bracknell, which is part of Waitrose,’ Rodgers, the Leicester manager, revealed this week.

He's won at Wembley before with Swansea in the 2011 play-offs, but the FA Cup is different

He’s won at Wembley before with Swansea in the 2011 play-offs, but the FA Cup is different

‘I will never forget that experience. I was there for four years and it was a very important stage of my life. I needed a job.

‘I was working 12-hour shifts for not a lot of money to feed a young family and then afterwards was straight out coaching in the evenings to try to learn. I used to work from 6am until 6pm then I would go out and do my coaching badges.

‘To then end up at Wembley as a coach all these years later is amazing.’

Tuchel on Friday spoke of three cup finals for his team between now and the season’s end. This one, Tuesday’s league meeting that feels a little like a play-off for the top four and then the Champions League final against Manchester City at the end of the month.

An argument could be made that Saturday’s game is the least important of the three for a club who have won the FA Cup eight times already. Leicester, on the other hand, have never won it. This is the club’s first appearance in the final for more than 50 years.

Rodgers said: ‘For us, you always have to start somewhere and make your own history. It’s our first FA Cup final for a long time and we have an opportunity to create that story for ourselves. We respect Chelsea, and we’ll respect their experience, but if you get that bit of luck and you can perform well, then hopefully you get the victory.

‘The league title in 2016 will always be the big achievement here at Leicester City but we have a chance of making this the second best in the history of the club.’

Leicester, who hope to have central defender Jonny Evans fit and available on Saturday, have beaten big teams already this season. 

They are third in the Premier League for a reason. Manchester United (twice), Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and indeed Chelsea have all been rolled over by Rodgers’ energetic, clever side this term.

Tuchel — the coach of cup-winning teams in Germany and France already — was hired shortly after Frank Lampard’s Chelsea lost at Leicester in January.

On Friday, he was hoping only for an improvement on his team’s loss to Arsenal early this week. ‘I am not yet in the mode to enjoy this,’ said the 47-year-old. ‘I still have a bit of a hangover from the last defeat so I am a bit more angry.

‘Hopefully we can turn that into a good performance and push the team to the edge and get them to play sharp. That’s my responsibility.

Jamie Vardy will make history on Saturday having played in every round of the competition

Jamie Vardy will make history on Saturday having played in every round of the competition

‘We have to show a reaction. This is it. It is a big match. It is at Wembley in an FA Cup final. It is my first final here in England and it is huge.

‘Leicester are a strong side who deserve to be in the final and a few days later we compete with them for the top four. This is the highest level and we need a top performance.’

Tuchel is just eight months younger than Rodgers. Previously coach at Paris Saint-German, his career has taken a more direct route up the ladder than his opponent’s. 

On Friday he admitted to feeling a little nervous ahead of his first Wembley appearance.

‘I will try to wake up early and do some sports and some meditation,’ he said. ‘Just 20 minutes. Breathe in, breathe out. In my room. Usually I can fly 20 or 30 centimetres off the floor. I glide around the room…’

Thomas Tuchel admitted to feeling a little nervous ahead of his first Wembley appearance

Thomas Tuchel admitted to feeling a little nervous ahead of his first Wembley appearance

A sense of humour is no bad weapon ahead of a big game, that and an appreciation of what an FA Cup final still means to an English public.

There will be no celebrations on Saturday night for the winners of this one. Both sets of players will train on Sunday morning.

But a difficult season is almost done, Wembley will have supporters in it and neither of these sides are likely to die wondering. There is much to anticipate.

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