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Exclusive – Opposition View FA Cup Final Preview with CFC Fan, Writer and Pod-Caster Stamford Chidge

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An FA Cup Final Preview with a difference will give you the inside track on our West London rivals Chelsea ahead of the big day. I was delighted to catch up with my old sparring partner, Chelsea FanCast Presenter/Producer and CFC write for the CFCUK Fanzone and Football.London, David Chidgey (@StamfordChidge)

DS – Good afternoon old friend. It has been a while since our heady days co-hosting the Fans Forum on Love Sport. Good times. You were excited by Lampard at the start of the season and I guess your excitement was justified. How would you assess his first campaign?

DC – Yes, I miss doing that show with you on Love Sport Radio; it was great fun getting the opportunity to chat about football outside of the bubble of your own club if you see what I mean! It brought some healthy perspective.

Regarding Frank Lampard; absolutely. While I was excited, I genuinely thought both he and Chelsea might struggle this season. His inexperience, losing Hazard, the transfer ban, relying on untried youth players; made me think we’d probably end up in mid-table. What I was happy and excited about was that we had a manager in charge who every Chelsea fan would get behind; who got us and the club and would do everything he could to get us back on track and would be doing it for us and the club rather than their own ego and self-advancement.

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Exceeded expectations

Given that, I think he’s surpassed all expectations. He’s got us in to the Champions’ League; we’re the top team in London again (cough!) and we are in the FA Cup final. Not bad for a transition season. But over and above all of that, he’s brought in some excellent young players who could prove to be the nucleus of the team for the next 10 years AND he’s unified the support.

OK, there are clearly on pitch issues to address such as the defence and the keeper, but now we can go back in to the transfer market, I’m confident they can be sorted out. Forza Frankie!

DS – You mentioned the youth and much has been made of the joy Lampard has had with them – but recently it has only been Mount and James who are still featuring. What’s become of Abraham, Tomori and Gilmour?

DC – Mount has been fantastic and it speaks volumes that he has made over 50 starts this season. The third youngest Chelsea player to do so after George ‘Stroller’ Graham and Alan Hudson – you might remember them; I think they ended up at some club in North London.

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Go to man for Frank

Clearly Frank rates him and maybe sees something of himself in him. I think Frank will build the team around Mason going forward. As for Tammy, it’s true his form has dipped and he’s suffered the odd injury too this season, but looking at the season as a whole, he’s done very well. 17 goals in all competitions (15 in the Premier League) is a very good return and provided he continues to learn and develop he’ll have a great career at the club. To put it in perspective Didier Drogba scored 10 Premier League Goals and 16 in all competitions in his first season at Chelsea and 12 Premier League goals and 16 in all competitions in his second season.

Fikayo Tomori had a great start to the season, but he’s suffered, I think, from the general chaos Chelsea has experienced defensively this season. After each defensive catastrophe, Frank has changed things around, looked for the best defensive partnerships and as a result Tomori has been squeezed out. He’s also been injured. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to prove just how good he is next season. I think he’s potentially the best defender we have, but he needs time. The question is, will he get it?

There’s a good case to be made that Billy Gilmour is the best of the bunch. He was the man of the match in his first two starts; the wins against Everton and Liverpool (in the FA Cup) and it looked like Frank was more than prepared to make him a starter in midfield in the re-start. Quite remarkable for a kid who is only 17 and in such a crucial position. Unfortunately, he had a poor game against Leicester in the Cup and was injured in the game against Palace with a knee injury that will keep him out for around 3-4 months. At 17 he has time on his side, but no doubt he’s made a huge impact this season and is definitely one for the future.

DS – I guess the form of our old mate Ollie Giroud has been a real bonus of late. You have to admire the man’s patience and ultimately his ability. Thoughts?

DC – I absolutely LOVE Ollie Giroud. He’s been a brilliant signing for us and well done to both him and Frank for getting him to stay in January. Oh, and as Brendan Rogers might say, he’s a beautiful man! No doubt his experience and goals since the restart have got Chelsea over the line in the race for the top four and he is a world class striker and one of the best at doing what he does. Can’t speak highly enough of him; the consummate professional.

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Friends Reunited

DS – Of late, Lampard – like Arteta – has switched to a 343. Why is this when CFC have had success in a 433… and is that what we should expect come Saturday?

DC – I think Frank prefers to play 4:3:3 but I don’t think we have the players to play it. We’ve been exposed defensively in a 4:3:3 as we don’t have a decent left back who can bomb forward and get back and when Kante is not playing we don’t have a midfielder who can cover the full backs and protect the centre backs. Quite often we’ve been dominated in midfield by teams that outnumber us so I think Frank changed to 3:4:3 to match up but also get the best out of the players he’s got. Reece James can play as a right back or a wing back and Marcos Alonso, I think, is one of the best left wing backs in the league. Having three at the back makes Chelsea a lot more secure too and helps shore us up when we lose the ball in the transition and are vulnerable to counter attacks.

It will be intriguing to see how Frank decides to set us up on Saturday. When we drew with Arsenal at home in January, we set up 4:3:3 with Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho in midfield. That worked ok, although we did get done on the counter (largely because Kante slipped mind!). In the 2-1 win at the Emirates, Frank started with a 3:4:3 with Kovacic and Kante in the midfield flanked by Emerson and Azpilicueta. It didn’t work (largely due to Emerson being rubbish) and Jorginho came on and he changed the system and we won.

However, given how much more solid we have looked recently with 3:4:3, I think Frank might stick with this system on Saturday. The personnel he has to use will be better than those who started against Arsenal in the Emirates (i.e. Alonso for Emerson; James for Azpi as wing back and Azpi for Tomori in the 3 man back three). I suspect much will depend on how fit Kante is after his injury.

DS – If so – as an outsider – he appears to have a 2 from 3 decision in the centre, if Kante passed fit, and 2 from 4 or 5 for the 2 attacking wide berths. Who do you think he will select and why?

DC – If he goes 3:4:3 and Kante is fit, I’d have a two of Kante and Kovacic, but even if Kante isn’t fit I’d still go for 3:4:3 as we just look better defensively and more resistant to the counter attack. Kovacic and Jorginho can still do a job in the middle, and James and Alonso are effective as wing backs. The other big decision is does he start Pulisic if Willian is fit. I think that’s a tougher decision frankly as Pulisic has been in outstanding form recently and is the kind of player who can frighten the life out of most defenders. However, if Willian is fit, I reckon he’ll start. Can’t beat a bit of Cup Final experience and Willian, Giroud and Azpilicueta have proved since the restart that experience gets you over the line. Pulisic coming on as an impact sub is no bad thing either!

DS – Many stories that CFC want a Keeper upgrade but which of your current 2 gets the nod for Wembley?

DC – Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Big Willy Caballero. Get the point? In all seriousness, he has to start over Kepa. Kepa looks shot and the defence clearly have no confidence in him. Caballero has also started every cup match this season (I think!) and our best defensive displays have been against Man Utd in the semi and against Wolves last weekend – we played 3:4:3 with Willy in goal and that’s no coincidence. Mind you we played 4:3:3 with Kepa in goal against City when we beat them 2-1 so what do I know! But, as I said, you can’t play a keeper who has lost confidence and the defence have no confidence in, in an FA Cup Final.

DS – Lastly, are you excited by the new signings so far – and what is the inside track on Willian? Is this his last game in a fabulous Chelsea career?

DC – The latest rumour I’ve heard is that Willian might accept a two-year contract rather than holding out for the 3 year contract which he won’t get. I hope he stays; he’s been a great player and servant of the club and with all the youngsters coming through and new signings coming in you still need players with experience and experience of what makes the club tick. Oh, and he hates Tottenham of course!

The new signings look amazing. Ziyech was very good when he played against us for Ajax; Timo Werner is clearly one of the most coveted strikers in European football and Havertz, if we get him, is supposed to be potentially one of the most talented players in Europe. Fantastic; Chelsea and Roman’s wallet back big time; Chelsea ruining football and firing wads of notes from Roman’s tank onto everyone else’s lawns. Love it. But in all seriousness, I very much hope they spend some money on a world class or even decent Premier League honed goalkeeper to replace Kepa; a decent left back and quite possibly a decent, experienced, Premier League defender – one with organisational and leadership qualities – that’s what we need to address.

DS – Enough about you and your lot Chidge. Let’s talk about my lot. Have you been imprssed with our young coach and which of our players worry you?

DC –I’ve got a lot of time for Arteta and believe he’s doing a decent job for Arsenal in a difficult situation.

Given the lack of money and still trying to forge something of a new identity after the Wenger era; dealing with some of the dead-weight he’s inherited can’t be easy for him. At least there seems to be some sort of a plan now and he’s looking to bring some of Arsenal’s youth players through. Fair play to him, I  hope he’ll be given the time to turn it round; I certainly think he’s proved to be a good enough coach to do that and the players seem to respect him and want to play for him, which is more than can be said for Emery.

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Impressed with Arteta and Auba a class act

As for the players; Aubameyang is a class act and a deadly striker on his day and Chelsea will need to deal with him to get a result. I also worry about David Luiz who, as he proved against City in the semi, can be a quality defender on his day. He’s a big match player and often turns up when it counts as he did for Chelsea on so many occasions and of course he’ll be highly motivated to do well against us. Of the rest Nketiah looks a good prospect as does Saka, who looks like he could worry our defence if he gets a start.

 

DS – Oh I can’t let you go without a prediction can I?

DC – you well know, I’m absolutely hopeless with predictions and also, I can never bear to predict anything other than a Chelsea win, so I’m going Chelsea to lift their 9th FA Cup with a 2-1 win. That said I think this is a very tough game to call. I’ve been impressed with Arteta and what he’s trying to do there and, I think, with one arm tied behind his back. He clearly knows his onions and, like Frank is a talented young manager, having been a great player for the club.

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2017 revenge?

It could be high scoring; it could very tight, even going to extra-time and penalties. But I think the sides are evenly matched. As we all know Finals rest on which team wants it more; which team turns up; individual mistakes or moments of brilliance.

Having seen us lose to you lot in 2002 and even worse in 2017 when we just didn’t turn up and blew the chance of the League and Cup double; I’m desperate for us to make it third time lucky and seal a fantastic first season for Frank.

I also hate going into the game as favourites and I’m sure Arsenal will go all out for revenge after being humiliated in Baku last year.

Over and above that, I’m just gutted, as no doubt you are, about not being able to be there. FA Cup finals are about supporters and it just won’t feel the same not being there. This will be the first final I have missed since I couldn’t get a ticket for the 2000 final.

DS – Cheers Chidgey and wishing you the worst of luck on Saturday!

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