For all their achievements and success, Chelsea had not been able to overcome Manchester United.
The Red Devils were proving to be the Blues’ bogey team, with three wins out of three this season. Whether it was the stunning 4-0 win in the Premier League opener, Marcus Rashford’s brace in the Carabao Cup victory or a bitter 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a 100% record in his first full campaign at the helm.
When Frank Lampard’s Chelsea were drawn against United in the FA Cup semi-final, Blues fans could be forgiven for feeling anxious.
But for a cup clash seemingly too close to call, Lampard made it look simple.
Reverting to a back three was the first stroke of genius, playing a setup which had served him so well before. It was the first use of a three-man defence for 10 games, a run stretching back to February with the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth. It was the founding step towards victory, a fact evident from the first whistle.
Chelsea played with complete freedom, allowing Marcos Alonso and Reece James to bomb down the pitch at every given opportunity. For a team so often scrutinised for their defensive abilities, the west London side were surprisingly solid with Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta either side of Kurt Zouma.
While the defence was superb, Lampard owes his success at the back to his midfield pivot, who overwhelmingly prevailed in the midfield battle at Wembley. Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić who were often unplayable against Nemanja Matić and Bruno Fernandes, controlling the game and playing a key role in Chelsea’s resounding win.
Lampard’s team selection was as flawless as his tactics, winning every duel on offer. The high tempo and energetic pressing were crucial in forcing United’s mistakes, outperforming them all game long. Every player had a part to play en route to victory, Fernandes’ penalty consolation the only tarnish on an otherwise perfect performance.
Quite simply, it was a managerial masterclass from Lampard.
The man who retired from the game four years ago, not even at the conclusion of his second season in management. The man doubted from the offset, now guiding Chelsea to their third FA Cup Final in four years. The man who is the seventh Chelsea manager to reach the Final first time lucky, and just the second Englishman after Glenn Hoddle.
It is a wonderful achievement for Lampard and his young guns, deservedly making it all the way to Wembley. Whether it was defeating champions-elect Liverpool, edging past top four competitors Leicester or finally beating Manchester United after three straight defeats, this is a sweet moment in Lampard’s short but sweet managerial career.
Chelsea deserved to win at Wembley, there is no disputing that. No-one could have predicted a run to the final with such confidence, but the Blues will now be back under the arch in less than two weeks. Only Arsenal – who Lampard has taken four out of six available points off – stand in the way of glory.
Sunday’s victory opens up some enticing questions for Chelsea. Is a back three the long-term solution to the Blues’ defensive woes? Should the same system be used for the final few weeks of the season? Where exactly do Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech fit into this puzzle?
For all the ignited debates, these are questions for another time. The season is far from over, with four huge cup finals across three different competitions. A top-four finish is at stake against Liverpool and Wolves, while the Blues have it all to do against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
But on 1st August, when Lampard leads Chelsea out in the FA Cup Final, it will be nothing less than what he deserves.
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