In a quirk of fate, or possibly a good omen, all six of the teams we have been drawn against in the 2019/20 FA Cup are clubs we have not only played in this competition before, but beaten during a campaign that ended with us lifting the trophy.
That trend was in evidence right from the start of the current campaign, when we were paired with Nottingham Forest in the third round for the second year running. However, both our matches against them in successful FA Cup campaigns came slightly later in the fourth round, when we faced Forest in 2000 and 2007.
In a further promising sign, we kept a clean sheet in both those earlier ties, which were also at Stamford Bridge, just like this season’s tie. In fact, the score line was identical in 2000, when Frank Leboeuf and Dennis Wise gave us a fairly straight-forward 2-0 victory, and things went even better seven years later with a 3-0 win as Andriy Shevchenko, Didier Drogba and even John Mikel Obi got on the score sheet, all in the first half.
When we faced Forest in 2000, we had already defeated Hull City, who were our fourth-round opponents this season. We were made to work hard for the win at the KCOM Stadium in the latest tie, but 20 years ago things were far more emphatic, as we inflicted a 6-1 thrashing on the Tigers at their old Boothferry Park home, including a hat-trick from Gus Poyet.
Things didn’t go much better for Hull when they visited the Bridge in 2018 either, as our 4-0 victory was notable for a Willian brace, Olivier Giroud scoring his first goal for Chelsea thanks to an assist from debutant Emerson, and young midfielder Kyle Scott coming off the bench for his first and only Blues appearance.
With no disrespect to Forest or Hull, it was in this season’s fifth round that the big boys arrived as the first of our four Premier League opponents, in the form of current English and European champions Liverpool. We have faced the Reds twice in winning FA Cup campaigns, and they were both pretty memorable matches.
The first was in 1997 and can best be summed up by one name – Mark Hughes. The Welsh striker was introduced from the bench at half-time by Ruud Gullit with Chelsea 2-0 down, scored one, set up another and generally tormented the Liverpool defence as we got three goals in 13 minutes along the way to an incredible 4-2 win.
The second of these ties against the Anfield club was, of course, in the final itself in 2012. That match at Wembley is sometimes overshadowed by the Champions League triumph which followed, but that should take nothing away from a solid performance at Wembley as Ramires and Drogba’s goals, not to mention a strong contender for the best save of Petr Cech’s career to deny Andy Carroll an equaliser, gave as a 2-1 victory.
We have faced this season’s quarter-final opponents Leicester City in no less than four victorious FA Cup campaigns so far, and it’s fair to say they have given us trouble every time. None more so than in 1997, when we surrendered a two-goal lead after the Foxes equalised in the 88th minute at Filbert Street, and it took us until a Leboeuf penalty three minutes from the end of extra-time to finally seal victory in the replay at the Bridge.
It was Poyet and George Weah who gave us a 2-1 win three years later, also in the fifth round, despite a nervy finish when Leicester pulled a goal back in injury time. The habit of late goals continued in the 2012 quarter-finals, when we looked set for a simple 3-0 victory before a flurry of action in the last five minutes saw the match finish 5-2.
We needed extra-time again in 2018, as Jamie Vardy cancelled out Alvaro Morata’s opener before Pedro came to our rescue by capitalising on a Kasper Schmeichel error to win it with a rare headed goal from the Spaniard.
That brings us to our most recent FA Cup opponent Manchester United, who we have twice beaten in the competition’s final. They were both narrow 1-0 victories at Wembley, the first in 2007 when Drogba poked home the only goal deep into extra-time, before Eden Hazard’s penalty proved to be the difference at the same venue in 2018.
Of course, we do have one more team to face in this season’s FA Cup, fellow finalists Arsenal. We haven’t always enjoyed the best of fortunes against the Gunners in this competition, but they do keep the trend going all the way to the end. We came from behind to defeat them 2-1 with goals from Florent Malouda and that man Drogba again in the 2009 semis, before beating Everton by the same score in that year’s final.
Only time will tell if all that is a good omen or merely coincidence. Roll on the action at Wembley.