Why FA Cup final suddenly matters: Neil Humphreys
Chelsea and Leicester City's seasons are at tipping points
Well, the FA Cup final suddenly means something. No one saw that coming.
Until 48 hours ago, the Wembley showpiece promised an atmosphere to rival an empty morgue on a public holiday, rather like so many games this season.
Leicester City were busy sabotaging a promising campaign for the second time and Chelsea were coasting along with Teutonic efficiency under Thomas Tuchel.
And then there was a minor tear in the fabric of accepted reality. The Foxes won and the Blues lost. Not life-changing events, perhaps, but they are potentially season-defining and not just for the FA Cup final participants either.
Their meeting at Wembley on Sunday morning (Singapore time) feels like an inflection point. The repercussions will extend beyond the contest itself.
Take Leicester. Their unexpected 2-1 victory at Old Trafford messed with the narrative. They were supposed to fold like a flimsy deckchair and disappear from view.
Now the Foxes are eyeing a seat at the top table.
Sitting pretty in third position in the English Premier League, the prospect of an FA Cup winners' medal feels like a welcome bonus rather than a distraction in a jittery race for the top four.
Brendan Rodgers switched to an unexpected 4-4-2 against Manchester United, as if overcompensating for Jamie Vardy's recent loss of form.
The move didn't work in a literal sense - both goals came from defenders Luke Thomas and Caglar Soyuncu - but Kelechi Iheanacho was a reliable pest and the extra man in midfield added a definite sturdiness.
The victory cannot be underestimated. With only two games to go, Leicester hold an eight-point lead over fifth-placed West Ham United (though the Hammers have a game in hand). Nothing breeds confidence like a buffer.
JOLT FOR FOXES
Champions League qualification isn't quite in the bag, but Rodgers recognises the timely jolt in the dressing room. Leicester have rediscovered their focus just as things are looking a bit blurry at Stamford Bridge.
The three points dropped by Chelsea are arguably more important than the three points gained by Leicester. For the first time - and the worst time - there's the tiniest chink in Tuchel's armour.
He overthought the game against the Gunners, resulting in yesterday morning's 1-0 defeat, or he underplayed the fixture's significance. But he certainly miscalculated.
Seven changes to the Blues' line-up contributed to the most disjointed display of the Tuchel era. Rather than rest key personnel, the extensive tinkering exposed problems that the manager had previously done so well to hide.
First, there is still no real No.9 option (despite Olivier Giroud's eagerness to chip in). Kai Havertz proved again that he's not quite equipped to lead the line.
Against Arsenal, his wayward finishing was too casual and his lackadaisical presence proved infectious. Chelsea's lethargy was alarming (see the Gunners' ridiculous winner for details).
N'Golo Kante and Antonio Ruediger will presumably return for the FA Cup final and Tuchel had to rotate with Chelsea still involved in three competitions, but a sense of complacency was hard to ignore.
Champions League qualification isn't confirmed. West Ham - and maybe Liverpool - still have enough games in hand to close the gap, if the Blues stumble again.
Tuchel's astonishing start to his Chelsea career may culminate in a trophy-laden campaign, but he's won nothing yet.
Intensity, dynamism and even endurance were all worryingly absent against Arsenal. Tuchel can afford one tepid outing, but not another at Wembley. He's still chasing critical targets on three fronts.
He needs momentum, not weary men dealing with performance anxiety.
From a selfish standpoint, this is great news for the rest of us.
The FA Cup final may rubberstamp Leicester's recovery or confirm Chelsea's wobble.
Either way, the Wembley exhibition - like the race for the top four - has just found a pulse.