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13 May, 2022 14:37

Chelsea eye silverware for Abramovich swansong

Chelsea are hoping to sign off from the Abramovich era with yet another title
Chelsea eye silverware for Abramovich swansong

As the Roman Abramovich era in West London winds down, Chelsea will be hoping they can deliver one final piece of silverware to their outgoing owner when they take on Liverpool in Saturday's FA Cup final.

The Premier League giants, currently the reigning European and world champions, are in the final throes of Abramovich's near two-decade reign – an exit hastened by sanctions placed upon him, and by association the club, by the UK government in the wake of the onset of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine. 

A consortium fronted by American businessman Todd Boehly is set to complete a big-money deal to secure one of world football's most recognizable brands in the coming days; a deal which is pivotal to Chelsea's very existence, but which also signals the stark conclusion to the most prolifically successful period in the club's history. 

The FA Cup has proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Blues and Abramovich. The Russian's billions have helped capture an impressive five FA Cup titles, while Chelsea have finished as runners-up on three occasions during Abramovich's tenure – with each of those coming in the last five seasons.

Indeed, this weekend's final against Liverpool will see Chelsea hoping to avoid what could be three FA Cup final losses in a row after losing to Leicester last year and Arsenal the season before.

It certainly won't be easy against Jurgen Klopp's marauding Reds, a team still chasing titles on four different fronts – even if Chelsea will have revenge on their minds after coming up short after an epic penalty shootout against Liverpool in February's EFL Cup final at Wembley. 

On that occasion, Chelsea's German boss Thomas Tuchel came under fire in the media for substituting reserve goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into the game ahead of the penalty shootout – only for the Spaniard to be entirely ineffective as Liverpool won the shootout.

And speaking to the media on Friday, Tuchel was kept his cards close to his chest when asked if he would do the same on Saturday under similar circumstances.

“I will not tell you [if Kepa is brought on],” said Tuchel. I have an opinion about it, but I will not tell you. When it comes to it, you will see. Even if we decide, like in the Carabao Cup final, if we have the chance, we will do it. 

“In approaching the match, we always say let's wait for the match and let's see how the game goes. Let's see if we still have a change available.

“My players shoot a lot of penalties on a daily basis through the season, which in my opinion is good to have a certain routine for the players. But to shoot tomorrow after 120 minutes of intense fight and in a full stadium, it's a different story.”

Chelsea have just three games left in what has been an arduous campaign, both on and off the pitch – and as such, several of Tuchel's key players have been fighting off injuries ahead of Saturday.

Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ben Chilwell are long-term injury absentees, but what of Mateo Kovacic who was forced out of the midweek win against Leeds?

“It's pretty surprising to be in the situation where we can try, and Mateo wants to try it – and the medical department gave the green light to try it,” Tuchel said.

“The 'advantage' is the ligament is torn already from the last incident [in the FA Cup semi-final], so there is no new injury, just heavy pain. His ankle was heavily swollen. We are hoping that maybe time is enough for him to make it. We will try in two-and-a-half hours in training, and we will know more about it.”

Doubt also remain about the fitness of another midfielder, N'Golo Kante – but Tuchel is of the opinion that at this stage of the season and in such a high profile game, now is the time to take a chance.

“It is the moment to take a risk, yeah,” he said.

But when all is said and done, Chelsea's off-the-field problems could be forgotten with a win against their rivals on Saturday and Tuchel, a serial winner, says his team will do everything in their power to ensure that the cup finds a home in West London.

“First of all, we have a chance to win something domestically – and we have been to the Carabao Cup final. We have won European trophies and World trophies. There are worse seasons out there. A lot of teams have had a worse season than our season.

“I wouldn't get carried away and say we have to win it. We will try everything, and it changes a lot if you play a final or win a final, I can tell you. We will do everything to be happy with ourselves and that we leave everything out there on the pitch. This is what we did in Carabao. Nothing new. We need luck, it needs to be on our side. We will push hard for it.

“We are aware [that we have a poor recent record in FA Cup finals],” he added. 

“We feel again well prepared. The atmosphere is right. The momentum is okay after the reaction in Leeds. Everybody knows what we are up to. We want to arrive to give Liverpool a hard fight. I don't know if there is one reason it is like this. I would prefer to point out the positives. A fifth cup final in six years, it shows the competitive spirit we have.”

And for Roman Abramovich, who will likely be watching somewhere on a television screen, many Chelsea fans would see it as a fitting send-off to the man whose millions changed the trajectory of Chelsea from a cash-strapped Premier League side to a globally-famous sports franchise.

Chelsea's detractors, of which there are no shortage, took great pleasure in slinging chants of, 'You ain't got not history' at the Blues faithful.

Now, two decades on from when those songs were first sung, Chelsea's history is set in stone.