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.
There will be a London derby in this year’s FA Cup final as Arsenal and Chelsea battle it out at Wembley.
North meets west London in the final, with the two teams undeniably experienced in this competition. They have won 12 of the last 20 editions, with a combined 21 FA Cup triumphs between the two clubs.
With a wealth of big-name players at both Arsenal and Chelsea, this is 90min’s combined XI of the available players for Saturday’s FA Cup final.
With Bernd Leno injured and Kepa Arrizabalaga out of form, the number one spot falls to Gunners goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. The 27-year-old has made 22 appearances throughout the season, but this will be the biggest game of his Arsenal career.
Nevertheless, Martínez has been in strong form since coming in for Leno, playing every minute of their FA Cup run.
While Reece James and Héctor Bellerín are talented full backs in their own right, César Azpilicueta is the clear choice. The Chelsea captain has made the second-most appearances under Frank Lampard this season, keeping a top level of consistency.
Azpilicueta will want to lift his second trophy as club captain and second against Arsenal after the Europa League last year.
In a season where Chelsea have often been calamitous in defence, Kurt Zouma has shown his worth at points throughout the campaign. The Frenchman has been sitting comfortably at the heart of the back three, looking at ease in between Azpilicueta and Antonio Rüdiger.
The Frenchman has made four appearances in the FA Cup this season, and was an unused substitute when Arsenal were victorious in the 2017 final. This Saturday he has a shot at redemption.
Rewind six weeks and you would not expect to see David Luiz anywhere near this team. But for all of his shocking mistakes this season, he has shown what he can do in defence.
Luiz’s semi-final performance against Manchester City is a notable example, where he put in a solid redemption display. If Mikel Arteta opts for a back three again, the Brazilian will be pivotal.
Tierney gets the nod at left back. Injury meant had to wait for his chance to break into the first team, but recent performances have shown exactly why he makes this combined XI.
The Scotsman scored his first goal in red on the final day of the league season, helping round off a 3-2 win over relegated Watford. As he continues to settle into life in north London, an FA Cup win would be the perfect end to his fairytale first season.
A sound contender for Chelsea’s player of the season, Mateo Kova?i? has been absolutely outstanding this season. Like Azpilicueta, the Croatian midfielder has offered a level of consistency and quality that the Blues have so greatly vied for this season.
Kova?i? will be at the heart of midfield in whatever set-up Frank Lampard chooses, and will need a big performance at Wembley to win the cup.
Despite being misunderstood and underrated by many this season, Granit Xhaka remains one of Arsenal’s best midfielders. It has been a rollercoaster of a season for the 27-year-old, but he is more pivotal than ever in the Gunners’ midfield.
He began life in north London by winning the FA Cup against Chelsea back in 2017. The Swiss will certainly be one to watch for this weekend’s final.
No Chelsea player has played more games this season than Mason Mount. A player who has truly shone in his debut campaign at Stamford Bridge, the 21-year-old has eight goals and six assists in 51 games, turning up when it matters for Lampard’s men.
His attacking quality and versatility has been valuable for Chelsea, with important goals against Wolves and Manchester United in recent weeks.
For his performances since the restart alone, one of the first names on this teamsheet would be Christian Pulisic. The American struggled to find his feet in his early days in England, but since he recovered from injury he has been unstoppable.
Pulisic has 20 goal contributions in his debut season, with eight of those coming in his last nine Premier League appearances.
Having spent a combined eight years with both Chelsea and Arsenal, Olivier Giroud will be a popular choice to lead the line in this team. The Frenchman has been on fire since football returned, with seven goals in his ten appearances.
Giroud is almost certainly going to start up front, ahead of younger options Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi. He won the FA Cup three times with Arsenal.
Along with the prolific Chelsea pair of Pulisic and Giroud, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the only fair selection to complete the front three. His brace was decisive in guiding the Gunners to the FA Cup final, in a man of the match display and a true captain’s performance in the final four.
Aubameyang is surely the favourite to be named Arsenal’s player of the season, and it is clear to see why. The Gabonese frontman has scored 27 goals in 43 appearances, and will be looking to end on a high when he leads his side out at Wembley.
For more from Nischal Schwager-Patel, follow him on Twitter here!
Another year, another Premier League season completed – except this wasn’t a typical campaign at all, was it?
COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works in March, meaning it took until July for proceedings to finally come to a close.
It may have been a weird, protracted slog of a season, but there’s still been plenty of exciting games for fans of the Barclays™ to enjoy. Whether it be exhilarating goal-fests, uplifting underdog stories or pulsating last minute drama, there’s been something for everyone to feast on.
Here are ten of the absolute best matches of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign…
Remember when Norwich were good? If it seems like ages ago, it’s because it was.
Before they regressed into the absolute horror-show of a team who lost ten on the bounce at the end the season, the Canaries treated us to a fascinating against-all-odds story, besting champions Manchester City 3-2.
A Kenny McLean header got the hosts off to a perfect start before a second goal from September’s flavour of the month Todd Cantwell put them two up. Sergio Aguero struck back for City but Norwich’s two goal cushion was restored when a trademark Nicolas Otamendi error allowed Teemu Pukki to smash home.
Rodri fired one back in the closing stages but it wasn’t enough. Cue absolute pandemonium at Carrow Road. Before you ask, yes of course the cameras panned to Delia Smith as soon as the final whistle was blown.
In scenes that shocked everyone – but particularly Troy Deeney – ten-man Arsenal showed some cojones to come back and defeat Aston Villa 3-2 back in September.
The Gunners conceded and had Ainsley Maitland-Niles dismissed inside 41 minutes and Nicolas Pepe’s equaliser on the hour mark was cancelled out less than 60 seconds later when Wesley scored the visitors’ second goal.
Not to be deterred by these strokes of misfortune, they rallied in the closing half hour with Calum Chambers and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both netting to earn Arsenal three points.
Manchester City’s glass jaw – or their inability to defend against half decent counter attacking sides – was again exposed against Wolves over Christmas.
Okay, the Cityzens did have Ederson dismissed 12 minutes in, but the ease with which Wolves sliced through Pep Guardiola’s defence signified the final nail in the coffin of City’s title hopes.
Raheem Sterling bagged a brace for the visitors but it wasn’t enough as goals from Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez, as well as a last minute strike from Matt Doherty, secured Nuno Espirito Santo all three points.
Prior to Liverpool’s trip to Watford in February, the Reds were looking likely to complete the season undefeated. They had failed to win on just one occasion all campaign and few expected their hot streak to end against Nigel Pearson’s struggling Hornets.
That’s the beauty of football though. You never know what might happen. Watford were incredible all evening, racking up 12 shots and restricting the so-called Mentality Monsters to just seven attempts on goal.
Ismaila Sarr grabbed a quickfire second half brace before Troy Deeney put the game beyond all doubt with a composed finish. It was genuinely shocking and may go some way to explaining why Liverpool faltered in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid soon after.
High stakes, great goals, late drama, Manchester United’s 3-3 draw with their Sheffield namesakes had it all.
A fortunate John Fleck goal in the 11th minute gave the Blades an ideal start and Chris Wilder’s side doubled their lead through Lys Mousset early in the second half. However, Mousset’s strike galvanised the visitors and led to a scintillating three goal salvo which put United ahead with 11 minutes left to play.
The Blades were not finished, however, with Oli McBurnie grabbing a 90th minute equaliser to ensure the points were shared.
I was actually at this game and it was one of the strangest sporting spectacles of my entire life.
It seemed like the game was won inside 20 minutes when Ayoze Perez extended Leicester’s lead to three over ten-man Southampton, and I remember turning to my friend and saying: “Well, this is going to be boring now.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After the fifth goal the majority of Saints fans left, probably to go and find warmth and shelter from the evening’s torrential downpour in a local watering hole. A hardy few remained to see Jamie Vardy score the Foxes’ ninth and give an earful to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s players.
This Merseyside derby defeat signalled the end of Marco Silva’s mainly miserable managerial stint at Everton.
As he often is against the Toffees, Divock Origi was in a rampant mood, bagging himself a brace while Xherdan Shaqiri, Sadio Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum also bagged for a rotated Liverpool side.
This was one of Jurgen Klopp’s side’s best attacking displays of the season. The forwards were working together in perfect harmony, leading to a flurry of splendid goals.
A six goal thriller featuring a late strike from everyone’s favourite journeyman striker, what’s not to love?
West Ham raced into a two goal courtesy of Issa Diop and Robert Snodgrass before Brighton were handed a lifeline early in the second half when an unaware Angelo Ogbonna put the ball into his own net.
Snodgrass then fired in a superb third goal to seemingly settle things, only for the Seagulls to mount a spirited comeback. Pascal Groß capitalised on some suicidal Hammers defending to bring his side within one, and Glenn Murray popped up soon after with his only Premier League goal of the season to earn Brighton a point.
Going into this meeting of last season’s top two back in November, Liverpool already had a five point lead over their opponents and many pundits claimed a win over their rivals would see the Reds place one hand on the Premier League trophy.
Stakes like this would scare some players, but not Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, who burst out the gates in frantic fashion. Fabinho rifled in Liverpool’s opener with just six minutes played and just seven minutes later Mohamed Salah made it two. Sadio Mané then grabbed a third after the break before Bernardo Silva scored a late consolation.
The game was also filled with refereeing controversy as Pep Guardiola was all too keen to point out, accusing Liverpool of getting THREE rather favourable decisions. He even used his fingers to help illustrate his laboured point. It was one of the best managerial outbursts of the season.
Post-lockdown football has been pretty rubbish, to be honest. A brilliant advertisement of the importance of match-going fans, most contests have lacked drama, intensity or both.
There were some exceptions, however, such as when Liverpool edged out Chelsea in this eight goal thriller on the night they received the Premier League trophy.
Momentum shifted in this game like a seesaw, with Liverpool’s three goal lead being cut to just one when Christian Pulisic made it 4-3 in the 73rd minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late goal eventually put the game beyond the Blues’ reach to ensure the Reds lifted their maiden title in a happy mood.
The World Snooker Championship gets underway on Friday, with the great and good from the world of snooker descending upon the Crucible in Sheffield for 16 days of action.
But snooker and football are never too far away from one another. Fan Brian Wright has risen to cult fame for wearing a Coventry City shirt every year at the World Snooker Championship since 1989 – before football kits were banned from the tournament in 2018.
And it’s not just the crowd that are fans of both snooker and the beautiful game, with numerous players also harbouring a love for a British football team.
The Jester from Leicester is Foxes through and through. Selby has enjoyed remarkable success symmetry with his boyhood club, winning the World Snooker Championship for the first time in 2014 as Leicester won the Championship – and he shared the team’s open top bus tour around the town.
In 2016, he famously won the World Snooker Championship for a second time on the same night that Leicester were crowned Premier League champions.
“I’m not sure what’s more of a shock, me winning it twice, or Leicester winning the Premier League,” Selby said at the time [via the Telegraph].
Ronnie O’Sullivan is one of sport’s great, enigmatic personalities. From his unconventional upbringing to taking a break to work from snooker in 2013 on a pig farm, he is a complex, mysterious and fascinating figure.
In contrast, his football team of choice is pretty route one. The world number six is an Arsenal fan, and he even had a trial with rivals Tottenham in his youth – although he didn’t turn up for three weeks because he was too busy playing snooker.
O’Sullivan has featured in the charity showcase SoccerAid match in 2006 and was a deployed as a right winger. On his footballing ability, O’Sullivan said: “I’m ok when I’ve got the ball, but I don’t go looking for it or like tackling.”
Australian Neil Robertson doesn’t quite support his local team. The world number two is a Chelsea fan, and is even friends with Blues legend John Terry.
After winning the 2015 UK Championship, he was invited into the Stamford Bridge dressing room the following week to celebrate with the team after their Champions League victory over Porto.
Robertson even revealed that Terry texted him midway through the final against Liang Wenbo urging him to ‘stay focussed’.
Scotland’s John Higgins is a huge Celtic fan, and celebrated his 1998 World Snooker Championship win by parading his trophy round Celtic Park on the day his boyhood club won the league and stopped Rangers winning an unprecedented 10 league titles in a row.
And when he can’t be there to witness it first hand, Higgins has been partial to watching his side win the league mid-game at the World Snooker Championship.
The world number five also has an English side, and follows Everton. It’s a classic combination.
The world number 10 and reigning Welsh Open champion is a Manchester United fan – and struck up an unlikely friendship with former United winger Adnan Januzaj.
The Belgian international was one of the first to congratulate Murphy after he won at the Crucible back in 2015.
Murphy is such a big football fan he got completely enraged by players diving that he went on an incredibly passionate and long-winded rant about it.
“Generally, it is pathetic and it is unfortunate that every kid wants to be a Premier League footballer and is influenced by what they do,” he concluded.
Our second Scottish entry unfortunately hasn’t been able to even out snooker’s Old Firm allegiance. World number nine Stephen Maguire is a supported of second tier side Partick Thistle.
Maguire has won more major honours (six) in his 22-year career than Partick have won in their 144-year history (two).
Arsenal face Chelsea in the 2020 FA Cup Final on Saturday, aiming to get their hands on the last available domestic silverware of the season (excepting the 2019/20 Women’s FA Cup, which will finish some time around the heat death of the universe).
Two of the most successful clubs in the competition’s history face off at Wembley, each with a remarkable six FA Cups this century. Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are chasing a record 14th title in what has been an underwhelming season, with an eighth-placed finish their lowest in 25 years.
Fifty years on from their historic first, Chelsea will be going for their ninth FA Cup and a first over the Gunners in three attempts. Frank Lampard could become the third Blues man to win the Cup as a player and a manager, following on from an impressive top four finish in the league.
When Is Kick Off? Saturday 1 August What Time Is Kick Off? 17:30 (BST) Where Is it Played? Wembley Stadium, London TV Channel/Live Stream? BBC One, BT Sport 1 (UK), fuboTV (US)
Arsenal have a number of long-term injuries in their squad, who will now be working towards next season. Bernd Leno, Gabriel Martinelli, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers remain injured, while Shkodran Mustafi will miss the final after coming off injured in the semi-final win against Manchester City.
Elsewhere, Héctor Bellerín is back in training after being left out as a precaution last week. The Spaniard has played in the competition twice this season en route to the final, and will be eager to make his third appearance in the showpiece game in just five years.
Chelsea will be desperate to have N’Golo Kanté and Willian back, after the pair both failed to make the squad for the win over Wolves. Kanté has missed the Blues’ last six games with a hamstring injury, with Willian missing just his second league game all season despite last-minute treatment last Sunday.
Midfield youngster Billy Gilmour continues his recovery from a knee injury, though he would earn a medal after making three appearances in the FA Cup.
Arsenal ended their Premier League season on a high, with goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kieran Tierney earning a 3-2 win over Watford. It was their third win in four games, following their impressive 2-0 victory against Manchester City to reach the final.
The Gunners have fought hard for every win en route to Wembley, winning every game by no more than a two-goal margin. They have had seven different scorers across their five Cup games, with captain Aubameyang tied with 21-year-old Eddie Nketiah on two goals apiece.
Chelsea sealed Champions League qualification with an impressive win against Wolves, thanks to stoppage time goals from Mason Mount and Olivier Giroud. They are five games unbeaten in the capital, though away defeats to Sheffield United and Liverpool have shown their gaping vulnerability at the back.
The Blues have faced European competitors in the last three rounds, after breezing past Championship opposition in Nottingham Forest and Hull City. Ross Barkley has scored three goals – including the deciders against Liverpool and Leicester – before a comprehensive 3-1 win over Manchester United in the semi-final.
Saturday’s FA Cup Final will be a fascinating battle between two of London’s finest clubs and most exciting young managers. Both Arteta and Lampard are vying for their first piece of silverware in management and, with six combined FA Cup winners’ medals as players, they both know what Wembley glory feels like.
While Chelsea have the upper hand being unbeaten against the Gunners this season and victorious in last year’s Europa League final, Arsenal have won both FA Cup finals against the Blues. Despite finishing four positions and 10 points apart, this will be a tight encounter under the arch.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
For more from Nischal Schwager-Patel, follow him on Twitter here!