We continue our build-up to Saturday’s FA Cup Final by taking a look at another FA Cup Blue Day. Baris (@VialliChelseaFC) recalls our FA Cup Campaign in 2000, which culminated in lifting the trophy for the final time at the Old Wembley Stadium.
“Roberto is a great man – he very much likes to play here and score goals,” [Gianluca Vialli, 20th May 2000] – just like in 1997, Roberto Di Matteo would be the Chelsea hero of the 2000 FA Cup final. It would sadly be his last ever goal in a Blues shirt. Di Matteo would tragically suffer a serious leg break on 28th September 2000 in a UEFA Cup tie versus St Gallen – with seemingly no progress on his extensive rehabilitation, the legendary Italian would prematurely retire from the game in February 2002.
Chelsea’s 1999/00 campaign can in some ways be compared to their 2017/18 season – another FA Cup in the trophy cabinet which wallpapered over the inconsistent and woefully poor performances in the league.
After achieving Chelsea’s best league finish in nearly 30 years, Gianluca Vialli recruited Didier Deschamps, Mario Melchiot, Chris Sutton, Jes Høgh and Gabriele Ambrosetti to an already experienced team of players during the summer of 1999. The pressure was now on for the club to mount another serious title challenge and maybe lift the Premier League trophy for the very first time.
FA CUP THIRD ROUND 11 December 1999
Hull City 1-6 Chelsea [Poyet (3), Sutton, Di Matteo, Wise]
Starting XI: De Goey, Hogh, Leboeuf, Deschamps, Poyet, Wise, Di Matteo, Ferrer, Harley, Sutton, Zola.
After the crushing 4-1 defeat to Sunderland in the league seven days before with Gianluca Vialli conceding that the team find it easier to play in the Champions League (0-0 away to Lazio on 7th December), many saw the unfancied trip away to Hull City as a potential banana skin for The Blues. Cue Gustavo Poyet with a hat-trick and the struggling Chris Sutton with a rare goal (this would be Sutton’s last goal in his very forgettable Chelsea career) as Chelsea finally found their rhythm and scored four goals in the second half – capping off a very disciplined and professional team performance. What did the Vialli think of the performance?
“People think we are soft, I don’t think we were that soft today. We knew we were better than them and it showed on the pitch. We showed we learned a lesson and now we’ve got to get even better.”
FACT: The Football Association defended its decision to stage the third-round of the FA Cup in December, claiming that replays would have had to be scrapped had it gone ahead with the usual January start.
FA CUP FOURTH ROUND 19 January 2000
Chelsea 2-0 Nottingham Forest [Leboeuf, Wise]
Starting XI: De Goey, Lambourde, Leboeuf, Terry, Harley, Petrescu, Deschamps, Poyet, Wise, Flo, Zola
The Blues started the New Year with four Premier League games within a twelve day period that included the famous 1-0 win against Spurs making new loan signing George Weah becoming an instant hero at The Bridge. The unbeaten start in January gave The Blues confidence going into the FA Cup tie against David Platt’s Nottingham Forest, who themselves were struggling in The Football League after being touted for automatic promotion. What was arguably a much deflated first half performance – lacking any real urgency or quality by The Blues (long balls to Gianfranco Zola anyone?), it needed a superb second half header by Leboeuf for the team to finally wake up. Jody Morris’s wonderful assist and pass allowed Dennis Wise to head home and put the result beyond doubt.
FACT: John Terry makes his fourth start of the season for The Blues – three previous being in the Premier League against Sunderland, Bradford and Spurs.
FA CUP FIFTH ROUND 30 January 2000
Chelsea 2-1 Leicester City [Poyet, Weah]
Starting XI: De Goey, Lambourde, Desailly, Hogh, Harley, Petrescu, Deschamps, Wise, Poyet, Weah, Sutton
“It was a decision by the referee which changed the game. We don’t need to give Chelsea big decisions, they are a splendid, excellent side, make no mistake about that” [Leicester City Manager Martin O’Neill, 30 January 2000] – déjà vu anyone?
The FA Cup fifth round replay on 26 February 1997? The Erland Johnsen penalty decision? But rather than dwelling on the sending’s off of both Steve Walsh and Dennis Wise, the match should be remembered as the George Weah show. His skills to assist Gustavo Poyet’s goal was simply exquisite. Moments earlier, Weah crossed a wonderful ball for Poyet who was unlucky to hit the crossbar. You felt that whenever Weah had the ball, you knew The Blues were on the attack. For the lead up to the second goal, Chris Sutton seemed to have shoved Taggart to the grown as he won the ball on the right and provide the cross to a wonderful strike by the Weah and secure the win for The Blues.
FACT: The incident from 26 February 1997 was brought up in the House of Commons after a Leicester fan sued the FA for ‘trauma, shock and distress’ caused by the decision
FA CUP SIXTH ROUND 20 February 2000
Chelsea 5-0 Gillingham [Flo, Terry, Weah, Zola (pen.), Morris]
Starting XI: De Goey, Lambourde, Terry, Desailly, Harley, Poyet, Deschamps, Morris, Zola, Weah, Flo
Peter Taylor’s Gillingham had beaten Premier League opposition – Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday on route to the quarter finals. In reality the match could have finished with a score line of double figures for The Blues if it wasn’t for Vince Bartram’s heroics in goal. In truth, The Gills simply had no answer Chelsea’s intensity and experience.
FACT: John Terry scored his first senior goal for Chelsea in this match, a typically strong header from a corner that was to become a regular occurrence in the years to come.
FA CUP SEMI-FINAL 9 April 2000
Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle [Poyet (2)]
Starting XI: De Goey; Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly, Harley; Di Matteo, Wise, Deschamps, Poyet, Weah, Sutton
Chelsea came into this match off the back of one of their greatest European performances as they beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Champions League first leg quarter final tie at The Bridge. The semi-final at Wembley was an enthralling game from start to finish, Chelsea did enough to knock The Magpies out of the FA Cup for the fourth straight time (the last time was on route to the 1996 FA Cup semi Finals). The Blues first goal came courtesy of Gustavo Poyet’s wonderful lob which capped off an excellent move that was started by the Uruguayan via a pass from Sutton and a wonderful flick by Weah. Newcastle’s forwards were continuously frustrated by the superb defensive displays of Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly and Harley. Alan Shearer who announced his retirement from international football after Euro 2000 did well during periods of sustained pressure by Newcastle and assisted Rob Lee for the deserved equalizer. Against the run of play and possession, a probing cross by Harley from the left was met by Poyet who headed the winner.
FACT: Poyet’s two goals in the semi-final made him top goal scorer for the competition with six goals in total.
FA CUP FINAL 20 May 2000
Chelsea 1-0 Aston Villa
Goalscorer: Roberto Di Matteo
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Referee: Graham Poll
De Goey, Babayaro, Leboeuf, Desailly, Melchiot, Deschamps, Di Matteo, Poyet, Wise, Zola, Weah
Subs: Flo, Morris, Cudicini, Terry, Harley
“For neutrals the hero was David James whose mistake spared us extra-time” [The Guardian’s David Lacey, 22 May 2000
The final was certainly no classic and often gets overlooked even though it became the last FA Cup final to be hosted at the old Wembley (construction of the new Wembley Stadium would begin in October 2002). Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester United on 24th April confirmed that Champions League football would not be returning to The Bridge the following season. The media also predicted that the “expensive assembled squad” would be “dismantled” in the Summer with the likes of Deschamps, Ferrer, Desailly, Leboeuf, Di Matteo, Poyet, Zola and Sutton likely to leave. Talking of Chris Sutton, Luca Vialli decided not to feature the £10 million flop at all in the final. A return of one goal in twenty eight Premier League games and a 0.04 goal per match ratio – compare that to Alvaro Morata’s 0.35 goals per match ratio in his debut season. Luca Vialli instead paired George Weah with Gianfranco Zola and the starting line-up pretty much picked itself. Jody Morris could count himself unlucky not to start as he had been one of his most influential seasons for Chelsea both in domestic competition and in the Champions League.
Aston Villa came to the final under the guidance of John Gregory. Since the mid 1990’s, Aston Villa were consistently a top 6 side and another top 6 finish on 14th May also rewarded them with qualification for the Intertoto Cup tournament.
A standoff in tactics by both teams contributed to a very dull first half at Wembley. While Villa stayed in first gear during the second half, Chelsea decided to finally move up a gear as chances started to come for Weah as well as a Dennis Wise disallowed goal. In the final quarter of the match, Zola’s free kick from the left was fumbled by goalkeeper David James (James’ frequent blunders earned him the nickname Calamity James) and Di Matteo pounced with a right hook shot that sent the ball into the roof of the net. In fairness Villa were poor throughout the match and when Gregory realized he could not play a passing game, he resorted his team to play long ball tactics. Ironically the change did give Villa their first meaningful opportunity with Benito Carbone his shot was cleared off the line by Leboeuf.
FACT: Due to ongoing injuries, The FA Cup final was only Mario Melchiot’s sixth appearance for Chelsea. A product of the Ajax youth system, he arrived on a Bosman signing during the Summer of 1999.
Shots on target: Chelsea 3, Aston Villa 1
Shots off target: Chelsea 3, Aston Villa 5
Corners: Chelsea 1, Aston Villa 5
Fouls Conceded: Chelsea 16, Aston Villa 14
Offsides: Chelsea 8, Aston Villa 3
Yellow Cards: Chelsea 3, Aston Villa 1
Red Cards: Chelsea 0, Aston Villa 0
Possession: Chelsea 53%, Aston Villa 47%
After sixty one competitive matches, The Blues ended the season as The FA Cup winners. The trophy capped a remarkable twenty seven month period for Manager Gianluca Vialli whose Chelsea team had now delivered four major trophies including an unforgettable debut in the Champions League.
What do you think will happen in Saturday’s Final? Let us know in the comments below!