Ah, the FA Cup. The magic of the FA Cup. It’s an exhilarating ride, and this one is set to come to an end on Saturday when Chelsea meet London rivals Arsenal at Wembley.
In the not-too-distant past, that wouldn’t have been a daunting prospect for Chelsea. The FA Cup was the Blues’ tournament. Wembley was their playground. Didier Drogba was king.
Between 2006 and 2012, Chelsea lifted the cup no less than four times, and they also reached the semi-final in 2013. If there was one team you didn’t want to face in the FA Cup around that period, it was Chelsea.
Nowadays, that reputation has disappeared somewhat. Sure, Chelsea did win the competition in 2018, but that was the first time in six years. Last season, they only made it to the fifth round, where the Blues failed to score in a FA Cup game at Stamford Bridge for the first time in 20 years as they fell 2-0 to Manchester United.
However, Chelsea have been presented with a real chance to rediscover that magic, and a large part of that is down to manager Frank Lampard.
Since 2012, when Chelsea’s famous spine began to disappear, their approach to the competition altered. With Drogba, Lampard, John Terry, Petr ?ech and friends starting to slowly slip away from the Bridge, there was nobody left to lead the charge.
How do you fix that? Easy – bring Lampard back.
From the Blues’ performances in the FA Cup this season, you can see just how much Lampard cares about this competition. He has rotated his squad but has never named what you would describe as a ‘weak team’. Despite his perceived obsession with youth, the only academy youngsters to have made appearances are the now-departed Tariq Lamptey and Billy Gilmour – the latter of whom was flirting with a breakthrough anyway.
Lampard has taken the winning mentality which led him to those four FA Cup triumphs as a player and instilled it in his side. Matches against Liverpool, Leicester City and United all had the potential to be problematic, but Lampard simply refused to accept defeat.
Even in the semi-final against United, when most fans would have called for a rotated lineup to start to save energy for the crucial top four race, Lampard didn’t listen and put out perhaps his strongest side. He needed the victory, and he got it.
His determination to win that game will be amplified on Saturday. Not only is it the chance for him to win his first trophy as a manager, but the alternative is seeing Arsenal celebrate their way into the Europa League at Chelsea’s expense. To Lampard, that would be hell.
When you have a manager who cares so much, a manager who gives the FA Cup the respect it deserves, it’s hard not to get swept up by the enthusiasm. The Chelsea players will all know just how important this game is to Lampard and the fans.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear to see that Chelsea ‘The FA Cup Juggernauts’ are flirting with a comeback.
With Lampard at the helm, that determination, that need to dominate the FA Cup will never disappear, and with so many academy graduates in the dressing room, that mentality will quickly take over. The passion shown by Lampard, Drogba, Terry and ?ech during the glory years will soon be echoed by Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Fikayo Tomori and any others coming through after them.
This season has been a welcome change from the disinterest which has plagued the Stamford Bridge dugout in recent seasons. There’s still a long way to go to get back to the top of the mountain, but Lampard has Chelsea on the right path once again.
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