Carlo Ancelotti has led Chelsea to the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season at Stamford Bridge. The Italian manager’s statistics speak for themselves. They show a win rate of 70%, just eight defeats and nine draws from a close to 60-match campaign in all competitions. Today’s triumph at Wembley saw Blues captain John Terry lifting that famous trophy for the third time in four seasons.
Their 2008 quarter-final exit to Barnsley aside, this dominance in recent years shows the value in having consistency throughout the spine of a team. Terry, vice-captain Frank Lampard, goalkeeper Petr Cech and this season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner Didier Drogba have played every minute of the FA Cup final wins. Ashley Cole has also been involved at some stage in all three, starting this year and last, but having to make do with the role of extra-time substitute in 2007. Drogba’s penchant for goalscoring at Wembley is well known; today his free kick saw the Ivorian find the net in his fifth major final at the England national team’s home. In those five appearances, which include successive League Cup finals in 2007 and 2008, he has been on the scoresheet six times.
Though goalkeeper, centre half, centre midfielder and centre forward have been ever present in the Blues’ success the man at the helm at Stamford Bridge has not. Ancelotti became the club’s third different manager to lead them to FA Cup glory since the arrival of owner Roman Abramovich’s millions, joining Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink in achieving this accolade. Whilst this gives some weight to the argument that it matters little who is in charge of this group of exceptionally talented players, it also reveals something about the continuity from reign to reign. Six of the 14 players involved in today’s cup final victory were signed by the Portuguese, now in charge at Inter Milan. Germany national captain Michael Ballack, who left the pitch before the end of the first-half in some discomfort, French winger Florent Malouda, Brazilian centre half Alex and the currently injured pair John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, as well as wide-men Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou have all been involved in two of the three Wembley wins. What Chelsea have then is players with abundant experience of finals.
Quality aside, appearing in the latter stages of cup competitions regularly is not a formality. The Stamford Bridge side have had to defeat fellow Premier League clubs to claim the FA Cup on each occasion. Their ties have been very favourable however, the team always being drawn against lower league opposition in rounds three, four and five. The 2007 campaign saw the blues defeat Tottenham only after a quarter-final replay at White Hart Lane before an extra-time victory over Blackburn, with Mark Hughes opposing his former club, in the semis before going on to beat Manchester United in the first final since Wembley’s renovation.
In 2009, Chelsea had to face just one top flight side in Arsenal before booking their place in what have become familiar surroundings across London. This season the blues had to dispense with Stoke City and Aston Villa in the latter stages of the cup, but were rarely tested. The defence conceded a solitary goal, to Cardiff in the fifth round, in the run to lifting the trophy. Although the players can only defeat the sides put in front of them the ties they have played are in stark contrast to their three different opponents in the final. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils had to eliminate a Premier League outfit in every round in 2007, whilst last year Everton faced three of the division’s top six. This time around relegated Portsmouth had to get past Sunderland and Birmingham City, two of this season’s surprise packages in the top flight, either side of a south-coast derby with bitter rivals Southampton.
No credit should be taken away from Chelsea. They do have resources that are unimaginable to the majority of other English clubs, reflected in the fact they find themselves fighting for silverware in four different competitions both domestic and international. With the regular season now at its end and the World Cup in South Africa a few weeks away, one cannot help but look to the future and much has been made of the Blues’ ageing squad. Drogba is 32 now, Portuguese centre half Ricardo Carvalho turns that in the week, as Frank Lampard will whilst on England duty in South Africa in June.
Brazilian-born pair Deco and Juliano Belletti, both 33 in 2010, are being strongly tipped to leave Stamford Bridge during the summer. Some fresher legs may well be needed in order to bring continued success. The club has been linked with Argentine forward Sergio Agüero, who we can expect to see at some point next month on the big stage, and Alexandre Pato whom Ancelotti and departing A. C. Milan boss Leonardo signed for the Rossoneri in 2007. These are two young stars have been impressive but surely have their best years ahead of them still. Liverpool’s deepening financial problems have left the tabloids reporting that talismanic frontman Fernando Torres may be cashed in with either Stamford Bridge or Manchester City as a potential destination. Only time will tell who the Italian manager wants to buy.