Ruud Gullit as player-manager of the Blues was aiming to win his first piece of silverware since he won the Supercoppa Italiana as an AC Milan player in 1994.
Road to victory
In the 3rd Round against West Bromwich Albion, goals from Dennis Wise, Craig Burley and Gianfranco Zola gave Chelsea a commanding 3-0 victory before they battled to a 4-2 win over Liverpool in Round 4. In the Round of 16, Chelsea were taken to a replay by Leicester City after the initial tie finished 2-2. A late extra time penalty in the 117th minute from Frank Leboeuf ensured the Blues won the replay 1-0.
Chelsea’s quarter-final and semi-final victories against Portsmouth and Wimbledon finished 4-1 and 3-0 respectively, leaving Middlesbrough as the side that stood in the way of the Blues’ second FA Cup in their 92-year history.
Chelsea started the final with a bang, scoring after just 42 seconds, when midfielder Roberto Di Matteo smashed a shot in off the crossbar, as he scored what then became the fastest ever goal in an FA Cup Final, the Italian breaking Jackie Milburn’s 1955 record by three seconds.
Middlesbrough were dealt a severe blow to their attack 24 minutes later when their talismanic Italian forward Fabrizio Ravanelli came off injured. Bryan Robson’s side had a goal disallowed on the stroke of half-time, when centre-back Gianluca Festa out jumped Blues defender Steve Clarke in the box to head into the back of the net, the Italian deemed to be offside.
The second half saw few chances for either side, but Chelsea all but sealed their victory on 83 minutes, as Eddie Newton drove forward from midfield, finding Dan Petrescu on the right wing. The Romanian’s delivery to the back post found Zola, whose cheeky flick back towards the six-yard box found Newton, who steered the ball into the goal past Borough keeper Ben Roberts.
Even though this wasn’t the most entertaining FA Cup Final, it prepared Chelsea for further success the following season. Despite Gullit sadly departing as manager in February 1998 with the side performing well on several fronts, the Blues went on to win the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and Football League Cup, under the management of his successor, Gianluca Vialli.
Since the 1997 final, Chelsea have won six more FA Cups, putting them third on the all time winners list with eight, four behind Manchester United and five behind the most successful FA Cup team of all time, Arsenal.