The 2019/20 was a season of drastic change at Chelsea Football Club. A club whose perceived ethos was to buy the best in the business – manager or player – had suddenly lost their manager and marquee player. An inexperienced Frank Lampard took over the reins at the door of a year-long transfer ban. He made a choice to blood the youth and build a foundation for the club after the wildly different systems of play under previous managers. For a club like Chelsea, the audacity was considered a pedestrian attempt at a good season.
If someone had told me that Chelsea would finish the season in the top four, reach the final of the FA Cup this season and attract top talent for the future, I would have taken it gladly. However, the fact that the season feels like a disappointment is a testament to the work being done at the club – right from the top of the structure, Marina Granovskaia, to Petr Cech down to Frank Lampard and his young, hungry players. Any appraisal of the season’s merits and demerits should consider the various factors that have driven the club and the public opinion surrounding it. With that in mind, the FA Cup run this season has been one of the more interesting and challenging ones that the club could have asked for. We look back at the story of our run within the context of the season and the situation we found ourselves in, at each corner.
Chelsea 2-0 Nottingham Forest – 05 Jan 2020
Chelsea was drawn at home to Nottingham Forest in the third round. Chelsea was in the midst of a miserable run of form in the league – three wins and one draw in the nine games prior, with the only bright spots being wins against faltering London rivals in Arsenal and Tottenham. This cup game was a must win fixture to gain some confidence. Chelsea duly delivered with Callum Hudson-Odoi scoring an early opener and playing a part in the second goal. Chelsea progressed to the fourth round without much ado.
Hull City 1-2 Chelsea – 25 Jan 2020
Chelsea faced an upbeat Hull City in the fourth round. The first goal was scored following a great pass from Matteo Kovacic into the path of Azpilicueta in acres of space, who in turn sent a floating cross towards Mount. Batshuayi managed to score with a deflected effort following the block on Mount’s initial shot. However, the game was not an easy affair, with Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki constantly threatening the Chelsea defence. Fikayo Tomori scored Chelsea’s second with a tap in off a wonderfully placed free kick from Ross Barkley. Hull City pulled one back with a free kick from Grosicki. Chelsea travelled to Hull City in a bid to arrest their indifferent run of form in the league and they managed to do so with apparent signs of recovery in the coming weeks.
Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool – 03 Mar 2020
Chelsea faced Liverpool at home in the Fifth round following Liverpool’s surprising dip in form. Although a shaky start saw Chelsea almost concede, Chelsea opened the scoring through Willian’s drive from outside the box, which Adrian could only guide into the net. Chelsea continued to threaten, with Alonso’s free kick flying just over the crossbar a few minutes later. Liverpool had yet another chance or two with Kepa – playing arguably his best game in blue – pulling off a stunning triple save. Chelsea came out in the second half firing on all cylinders. Mount found his free kick hit the crossbar just before Ross Barkley sent a wonderful solo effort past Adrian to seal the game for Chelsea. Chelsea refused to settle with the two-goal lead. Shortly after, Pedro found himself on a Torres-esque run through on goal only to squarely find the keeper. Chelsea continued their siege on the castle of the European champions via Giroud, only to find Adrian parrying the ball onto the crossbar again. This game was an attacking display for the ages. Liverpool had lost to Watford and Atletico Madrid in their three previous games. Frank Lampard and his boys smelled blood on the Reds and attacked as only a pride of lions could.
QF – Leicester City 0-1 Chelsea – 28 Jun 2020
Chelsea, fresh from a league win over Guardiola’s Manchester City, had momentum on their side as they faced Leicester City in the quarterfinals behind closed doors. Leicester, on the other hand, had not conceded a goal in the FA Cup yet. As is usual with teams on some momentum, Chelsea started the game lethargically, weathering Leicester’s forays to luckily end the first half level. Billy Gilmour, who had a good run of games before the COVID-induced lockdown, looked particularly off the pace, as he gave away a lot of balls cheaply. Aside from a brilliant save from Schmeichel off Pulisic, things were not going Chelsea’s way. Lampard was visibly frustrated as he made three substitutions at half time. This reshuffle helped Chelsea’s case as Barkley made an intelligent run to place Willian’s cross into the far corner of the net. Late efforts from Soyüncü and Ndidi could well have given Leicester a deserved win. However, Leicester’s wastefulness trumped their incisive attacks and Chelsea’s grit, their lethargy. Chelsea were through to the semifinals, a lofty position to be in, considering the expectations.
SF – Manchester United 1-3 Chelsea – 19 Jul 2020
Having reached the semifinals, Chelsea faced Manchester United, a team they had lost to three times this season. Chelsea had to beat them, for pride, if not to reach the finals. United were on a stupendous 19-game unbeaten run, swatting teams aside like flies. Bruno Fernandes was producing every game. Paul Pogba was back and in good touch. Solskjaer seemed to have found his team and system that worked. However, both teams surprisingly set up with three at the back. Apart from a Fernandes free kick, Chelsea were the better team in the first half, with nothing to show for it. A smart interplay between Willian and Azipilicueta allowed Giroud to get on the end of an Azpilicueta cross, to score on the stroke of half time. Mason Mount followed up with a powerful drive immediately after the restart to give Chelsea a two-goal lead, effectively wrapping the game. Maguire deftly added Chelsea’s third with a tap in into his own net before ‘Penalty Kid’ Bruno Fernandes added a consolatory goal from the spot. Chelsea had done well to reach the finals – and continue their upturn in form after the restart of football.
Final – Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea – 01 Aug 2020
Chelsea faced Arsenal in the 2020 FA Cup final, offering a chance for a first trophy to two managers learning their craft in Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta. Chelsea started the game brightly, with Pulisic scoring the first goal in customary fashion. Arsenal, fresh from a rollercoaster of defeating Manchester City and Liverpool and a loss to Aston Villa, found their stride after the first drinks break to dominate Chelsea. Aubameyang scored the equalizer for Arsenal from the penalty spot, owing to Azpilicueta finding himself on the wrong side of him and fouling on the edge of the box. It went downhill from that point for Chelsea. Two key players in Azpilicueta and Pulisic found themselves prey to hamstring injuries either side of half time. Arsenal continued their onslaught on the Chelsea goal as Aubameyang scored his second of the game with a deft finish over Caballero, which proved to be the winner. Kovacic was shown an atrocious second yellow soon after, to knock the air out of Chelsea. The team played below the standards they had set for themselves, but Lampard needs to shoulder some blame for his decisions. With the directness of Callum Hudson-Odoi available, he chose to bring Pedro on for Pulisic. Despite chances being scarce, he did not change the system. As much as fans may like to blame Anthony Taylor for his indiscretions, they were merely a sorry embellishment for a team that had performed poorly in the biggest game of their season.
The FA Cup is the oldest national football competition in the world. Reaching the final is an achievement for Chelsea, in its current situation. Chelsea had faced, weathered, and beaten Liverpool, Leicester city and Manchester United to reach the finals of the FA Cup. Although we are left with a sour taste in our mouths today, the sun has not set on the Roman empire yet. This cup run is an apt microcosm of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and exudes hope for the future. While the Liverpool game showed how we could face and beat a superior opponent, the Leicester game showed that we could win a game with grit, if not by playing well. While the Manchester United game showed that we could exact a vengeful, clinical display, the Arsenal game showed us some inadequacies of Lampard’s decisions. Chelsea is a team that is growing and the manager along with it. With the right additions and some experience, the team could reach the lofty standards set by none other than Lampard, Drogba, Terry and the likes from a decade ago. With the structure at the club seemingly more manager friendly, we could yet see an amalgamation of things done right and go on to become a real force. The stories being woven on the tapestry of this club’s history ought to warm the heart of any blue-blooded soul and fill it with hope – and ‘hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.’
What did you make of the disappointment in the final? Let us know in the comments below!