Man United, Chelsea are flawed, and second-rate FA Cup won't cover their failings
Remember when the FA Cup final was a day of celebration, anticipation and glorious possibilities?
It was the one fixture in the calendar, usually bathed in sunshine, which brought hope and excitement in equal measure, with even the unlucky runners-up able to measure their progress by at least making it to Wembley.
The FA Cup still matters, and it will certainly matter to the supporters of whichever of Chelsea or Manchester United lifts the cup at Wembley on Saturday, but this final does not set pulses racing like it should.
It is two of English football's biggest clubs -- when you add up the trophies won by English teams this century, United and Chelsea are way ahead of the rest -- and the game also gives us a classic clash between two managers who have made it clear that they do not like each other.
This FA Cup final, therefore, is a collision between two juggernauts, with a genuine rivalry on the touchline too. Could we have asked for more?
The big problem about this final, though, is the mood music going into the game. Saturday should be about one club adding yet another trophy to their collection, but whoever ends up victorious, it will feel like a consolation prize.
Added to that is the sense that both clubs and managers go into this weekend underneath heavy grey clouds, with neither United and Jose Mourinho nor Chelsea and Antonio Conte meeting expectations this season.
In the case of United, a win on Saturday would move them level with Arsenal as the competition's most successful club, with 13 FA Cups.
But with Manchester City cruising to the Premier League title, amassing an unprecedented 100 points to embellish their success, and Liverpool making it to the Champions League final in Kiev next week, an FA Cup will feel like small fry compared to what their biggest rivals could achieve.
City and Liverpool have also played with style and ambition, in contrast to the more cautious, functional approach of Mourinho's United, so there is no sense of celebration around Old Trafford in the build-up to the Cup final.
It may smack of arrogance or a misplaced sense of worth, but United are about winning Premier Leagues and European Cups. FA Cups are great, but they simply do not measure up when the bigger prizes are won by others.
And as for Chelsea, their campaign has left Conte's position hanging by a thread. With last season's champions finishing this season outside the top four, Saturday will almost certainly be Conte's final game in charge because even a win at Wembley is unlikely to be enough to save him.
Next season will be about Thursday nights in the Europa League and attempting to build again under a new manager, and winning the FA Cup won't change that.
But there is also an under-riding sense that this Cup final is a clash between two teams who have no obvious forward momentum.
A cup final can often be the launchpad for something bigger and better, and that would have applied to Tottenham had they made it past United to make it to Wembley this weekend.
But both United and Chelsea are flawed right now. Chelsea are looking rudderless under Conte, while United's team under Mourinho appears no closer to being the finished article, two years after he arrived to build it.
United are a team that has beaten all of the top six at least once this season and finished a comfortable second in the Premier League, but they also lost to all three promoted clubs and dropped points against relegated Stoke and West Brom. They remain an enigma.
But would winning the FA Cup save United's or Chelsea's season? That is often the comfort blanket thrown out for teams that have under-delivered, but it will not cover up the failings of either of them.
They both want and expect to be challenging for the biggest prizes, and neither has come close to suggesting they are anywhere near ready to win the league or European Cup anytime soon.
Winning an FA Cup and celebrating it in traditional fashion would ultimately be nothing more than a reminder of their shortcomings in the competitions which, to United and Chelsea at least, are the only ones that really matter.
But that is the problem when clubs have gorged on success, as United and Chelsea have.
When the big trophies end up somewhere else, games like the FA Cup final do not seem to matter quite so much as they used to.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_