They say all games in the final stretch of the season are like cup finals, and Sunday will be no exception for Chelsea... well a semi-final at least. The Blues travel to Wembley for the FA Cup showdown with top four rivals Manchester United.


An enticing clash is nonetheless a nerve-wracking one, and not just for the players.


It marks a remarkable achievement for Frank Lampard, reaching the semi-final stage in his debut season. Lampard could become the seventh Chelsea manager to reach the FA Cup final in his first season, and just the second Englishman after Glenn Hoddle in 1994.


However big of an ask it is, he is capable of moving one step closer to glory - and what a feat it would be, 12 months on from his appointment at Stamford Bridge. Only Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo have won the cup as a player and manager for Chelsea - Lampard could become the lucky third.


Lampard (right) with the FA Cup trophy in 2012.

Lampard has been facing tough tests ever since he arrived, but this may be the toughest of them all.


This season has been a learning experience, which started with a humbling loss to Manchester United last August. Defeat to the Red Devils has been a sorry theme for the Blues, losing all three meetings in the Premier League and Carabao Cup. Excuses can be made for every one, but three losses out of three makes for uncomfortable reading.


Chelsea have ended their last two FA Cup campaigns against United. Antonio Conte guided them to FA Cup glory in 2018, before succumbing to a spineless defeat at Stamford Bridge nine months later.


This time around, Manchester United are the form team in the Premier League, unbeaten in 19 games across all competitions. After falling to three defeats in January, they have not lost since. Solskjaer has a 100% record over Lampard, leading with an overwhelming aggregate score of 8-1. It is the Norwegian who has the upper hand over the Englishman, and in some style.


Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) next to Lampard (right).

The strong run of form has been a testament to United’s hard work and individual talents. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have formed a formidable partnership in midfield, while Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have a remarkable combined 63 goal contributions this season.


It will not be easy under the Wembley arch, but when the pressure has been on Lampard, he has delivered.


When Chelsea played London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal away within one week, they beat them both. When the Blues hosted runaway champions Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round, they put in a stellar performance. When they had back to back away games in the Champions League group stage, they came away with six points out of six.


Especially since the restart, Chelsea have extended their winning streak at Stamford Bridge to six straight victories. They sit in poll position to finish in the top four, despite the occasional hiccup on the road. They have performed when it matters on so many occasions, deservedly placing them in a strong position.


Lampard celebrates a win back in February.

Lampard has successfully carried over his winning mentality as a player into management, something evident as they prepare for an FA Cup semi-final. It will not be an easy game at all, but if this season has shown one thing, it is that Lampard has well and truly defied expectation.


Not many people expected much from Chelsea - even Blues fans themselves understood they were entering a period of transition. But despite a damaging transfer ban, losing their best player in Eden Hazard and appointing their ninth manager of the decade, Lampard is looking at a top-four finish and still eyeing up FA Cup glory.


When the Blues walk out at an empty Wembley Stadium, they will know what is at stake. The pressure is on Lampard, and however difficult this hurdle will be, there is no doubt they can clear it and move within 90 minutes of England’s most prestigious trophy.



For more from Nischal Schwager-Patel, follow him on Twitter here!