Generally, I’m of the opinion that young people today are lucky, from a footballing perspective, to have been born when they were. As they grow up and their allegiances are formed, they’ll soon find how easily it is to follow their team so closely, with so many discussion boards and forums online for their specific club and with virtually every match available through internet streams, if not on television. There’s also obviously a world of footballing history and trivia readily available online to educate us – it’s not quite as enriching as the past generation’s alternative of reading the works of Glanville and then Kuper, but it’s slightly more time effective.
One thing however it seems young fans will never experience is the collective anticipation and nationwide excitement that used to precede Cup-Final day. Not so long ago, hundreds of thousands of families would sit down together, switch on what was still called ‘the television set’, and enjoy the full-day preview to a match which in the majority of cases, would have had nothing to do with their team at all. This Saturday however, no such enthusiasm existed – not even it seems from the fans of the participating teams! Personally, that morning I just woke up, examined the concupiscent yet tasteful calendar on my bedroom wall and thought, “Huh… Its Cup-Final day today, we’re probably gonna win”. A few hours later – we did, and we did it with all the seamless uniformity of mid-week home league game against mid-table opposition.
(Does anyone else remember, back in the days of Mourinho and Benitez, when our matches against Liverpool used to be tense, gritty, nerve-wrangling games of football? This Saturday we completely dominated them, and quickly put the game beyond reach at a walking pace before sitting back and soaking up the pressure from their attacks that were so routine and unimaginative, that Andy Carroll was actually their key creative player!)
From a tactical perspective, I thought the game was quite interesting and extremely revealing with regards to the gap in quality that exists between the two sides now. Considering we both lined up with the same formation (4-2-3-1), it looked like two entirely different systems were being played. No doubt the most important factors being we had two world-class holding midfielders in Mikel Obi and Lampard, whilst they had inexperienced and unprepared boys in Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson. Their inability to keep/use the ball in midfield meant Gerrard and their wingers constantly had to drop deep to help compete in the middle of the pitch. Juan Mata meanwhile was able to deliver another MOTM performance, holding his position as a #10 to distribute the ball perfectly to one the front three, time and time again.
Anyway, in spite of the depressingly low amount of interest it raised, Saturday’s game was extremely important and it saw a much-deserved Chelsea win. The victory was our fourth in FA Cup victory in just six years! (I love that stat) It represents a level of dominance that the Cup hasn’t witnessed since the 1870’s – which has to raise the question, ‘Is this group of Chelsea players the greatest FA Cup team of all time’? I think it may well be, especially when considering the individuals of whom it compromises:
– John Terry is the first captain to ever lift the trophy four times at Wembley Stadium, and is the first do it anywhere since Victorian times
– Ashley Cole is only man in history to have won the competition SEVEN times (something he’s done in just 11 years)
– Petr Cech has actually never once lost a match in the competition, over eight seasons!
– Didier Drogba (aka the King of New Wembley) is the only man to have scored in four separate FA Cups finals (i.e. every FA Cup final he’s played in). Three of which also were match winning goals
As a team, excluding defeat by penalty shoot-out, we hold the record of 23 games without defeat in the FA Cup between Jan 2009 and May 2012 – scoring 63 goals and conceding only 14 as we did it. Going back even further, during the past six seasons, our performances in the Cup have remained a real constant for us, even with all the change occurring and new methods being tried out, and with the standard of domestic football in England unquestionably rising. We’ve just developed this knack for progressing quietly and quickly all the way to Wembley without any troubles, and then delivering the big performances when it counts the most.
The consistency and the character we’ve shown over this period, in my opinion makes this squad of players the greatest FA Cup team of all time. The system we use, in conjunction with the character of team and quality of leadership when it matters, almost makes me wish that every competition was one-leg knockout football – we might just be the best in the world.