MATA'S FA CUP - SO FAR SO GOOD
If Juan Mata was new to the FA Cup when he arrived at the start of the season, he will certainly know all about by the end of this coming weekend.
Our playmaker from Spain has been one of the central characters in the story of how Chelsea have made it to our 11th final in football's oldest competition. He has played in every game, he scored our first goal of the cup run, he has had a mixed experience from the penalty spot but he was one of the undoubted stars of the semi-final thumping of Tottenham.
Now Mata will return to Wembley for his first experience of the deciding tie and having been in the thick of the six games that have brought the team this far, he sat down with the official Chelsea website to relive the Wembley trail.
Third Round - Sunday 8 January - Chelsea 4 Portsmouth 0
For one of English football's most treasured and traditional weekends, something verging on a tradition for Chelsea continued as for the eighth successive year we were drawn at home in the third round to a lower division club.
We came into the game off the back of the back of a mixed bag of results over the holiday period while Championship-side Portsmouth had won just one game away all season.
It took until early in the second-half for Mata to make the breakthrough after Florent Malouda had pulled the ball back, but then John Terry had to clear off the line, colliding with a post and suffering any injury that would eventually keep him out for five weeks. A powerful second-half display from then on was capped by three goals inside the final 10 minutes, two from Ramires and one from Frank Lampard. The Blues were safely through the third round for the 14th year in a row.
'It was a different feeling because the FA Cup is a special tournament here with a lot of tradition and a lot of history,' says Mata, 'and for me to score in my first game in the FA Cup was amazing.
'It was a good crowd and a different atmosphere and we felt from the first game against Portsmouth, through the rounds until Wembley, that the atmosphere was amazing.
'The game was not easy and for lower division teams an opportunity to play against Chelsea or another big club is always one of their best games of the season, so we always have to be aware of this.'
Fourth Round - Saturday 28 January - Queens Park Rangers 0 Chelsea 1
It was a top-flight challenge for the next stage with added ingredients of local rivalry and an opposition side who had already beaten us at their place earlier in the season. Whereas that league meeting had been incident-packed with two Chelsea red cards but a dominant second-half performance that didn't reap rewards, this midday match was unremarkable in comparison.
As with Rangers' league win, it was decided by a disputed penalty, Mata scoring on the hour after Daniel Sturridge had been pushed over. The England striker could have been awarded an earlier spot-kick.
QPR had a rotten record in the competition over the past decade but surprising there were empty seats in the home sections of Loftus Road. The Chelsea team as one went to salute the away support on the final whistle.
'It was a difficult game because their stadium is always hot and the crowd always support them. It was a lot of pressure for us,' recalls Mata, 'but we won with my penalty and we were straight to the next round.
'It was a London derby and we had a lot of fans there in the stadium supporting us, and it was good for us to celebrate the victory with them.'
Fifth Round - Saturday 18 February - Chelsea 1 Birmingham City 1
We had failed to win any of the three league games since the previous round. Our Championship opponents arrived unbeaten since December and they did nothing to help waning confidence at Stamford Bridge by taking the lead after the Blues dealt poorly with a corner. Mata then had a penalty pushed onto a post after Ramires had been fouled.
The equaliser came on the hour as Branislav Ivanovic showed once again he could be an attacking weapon from right-back with a great cross, diverted in expertly by the head of Daniel Sturridge. However the visitors wasted a good chance to slay giants close to the end.
'I missed a penalty, it was a good save, and we were suffering too much,' says Mata, 'but then Sturridge did a great header although we needed another game to go through. It was the most difficult moment for us in the FA Cup this season, when we were losing 0-1 against Birmingham.'
Fifth Round Replay - Tuesday 6 March - Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 2
The first game with Robert Di Matteo in charge and the side he selected took until the second half to create better chances than the home team, but when Chelsea did, Mata found the net following a goalmouth scramble, Ramires having won possession. It was the Spaniard's third FA Cup goal but he missed out on his fourth when after Torres was fouled but declined the opportunity to take the penalty, Mata hit his spot-kick too straight.
By that stage though Chelsea were 2-0 up. Raul Meireles's goal was described at the time as a goal-of-the-season contender and so it has proved. The win was deserved and much welcomed although Petr Cech had saved well from Nikola Zigic with the game scoreless.
'From the first moment we were focused on winning because for us by now the FA Cup was very important for our season, and as well for Andre and Robbie, both managers. We want to win this tournament for both of them because we started with Andre and got through two rounds with him.
'In Birmingham we played well. I had another penalty saved by the same keeper but I scored the first goal so it was a good game and Raul scored a great goal into the corner.
'We were aware of Zigic because he was my team-mate in Valencia and he is a very dangerous striker. The save from Pete was very important as well in reaching the final.'
Sixth Round - Sunday 18 March - Chelsea 5 Leicester City 2
Our sixth FA Cup quarter-final in seven seasons came four days after the never-to-be-forgotten extra-time turnaround against Napoli. Only four players from the starting line-up against the Italians remained, Mata of course one of them.
Against the third Championship side faced in the cup run, there was no adverse reaction to the many changes made to the team as Gary Cahill headed in his first Chelsea goal soon after the start and Salomon Kalou doubled the lead before long.
That goal was made by Fernando Torres (pictured below) who turned scorer in the second-half with two goals of his own, Leicester putting a spot of pressure back on us by scoring either side of his second, but then Torres became provider once more by teeing up Meireles to make it 5-2. Mata for once had been given some rest, taken off during the half-time interval.
'Straight after Napoli we did well,' says the Spaniard, 'and we had a goal when Gary headed in my corner straight away which gave us a lot of confidence to play more relaxed. We really enjoyed the game, scoring five goals to arrive in the semi-final.'
Semi-final - Sunday 15 April - Tottenham 1 Chelsea 5
Having played out two tight draws in the league against the White Hart Lane outfit who had been above us in the table for most of the campaign, Chelsea fans would surely have settled for a 1-0 victory, but instead they were reward beyond their dreams.
There always looked to be goals in this game, the Blues missing the best early chances before repelling Tottenham's strongest spell which ended when the master of Wembley goals, Didier Drogba, fired in one to match any in his collection.
A goal up at half-time, the Blues doubled the lead soon after through Mata's shot which was judged to have just crossed the line. Many doubt that to be the case, not least Tottenham, although photos from one angle show that TV relays might not be quite as all-seeing as everyone believes.
As Lampard put it so well after the game, all four other Chelsea goals definitely crossed the line and after Spurs had threatened a comeback by making it 2-1, Mata supplied Ramires for a preview of his Barcelona goal as he chipped Carlo Cudicini to make it 3-1. Lampard scored probably his best free-kick and Malouda, who enjoys a Wembley semi-final, added the cherry on the top in what was by that stage nearly a half-empty stadium.
Mata shone throughout. Was it his finest game in blue?
'I don't know, maybe,' he answers. 'I really enjoyed the game, more in the second half because I had a lot of space to assist my team-mates and us scoring five goals against a team like Tottenham is amazing.
'I was surprised about Wembley and the supporters because the crowd and the atmosphere was amazing. Everything went right, beginning with the fantastic goal by Didier who opened the game for us. It was one of my best games here and I wish the final to be even better.
'I have played in the Copa del Rey Final in Spain and that and the FA Cup are the main cups in England and in Spain, but they are different because the FA Cup plays on weekends whereas in Spain it is in the middle of the week - but a final is a final and the 2008 Copa del Rey Final with Valencia was amazing because we beat Getafe 3-1 and I scored the first goal of the game.
'So I have been lucky with the final in the Spain and I wish to be the same here.'