A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s 3rd round FA Cup tie at home to Nottingham Forest.
The first full weekend of the calendar year is one of the most popular with supporters of English football. The 3rd round of the FA Cup is when all the Premier League and Championship clubs enter the competition. This gives the smallest clubs in the country the dream of a giant killing opportunity and a chance of a relatively significant payday.
Chelsea begin their defence of the trophy with a home tie against Nottingham Forest. Kick off remained at 3pm as the match was not selected by either British tv nor as part of the new global tv deal. Out of the 32 3rd round ties, only 10 of them are still kicking off at 3pm on the Saturday thanks to the oldest footballing cup competition being so popular with supporters across the world.
The Blues have won their last 5 encounters, the most recent 3 being in cup competitions. Last season’s 5-1 victory at Stamford Bridge was in the League Cup. Their last league match against each other was back in 1999, while Forest’s last win was at The City Ground in 1997 and they have not won at Chelsea since 1995.
After then both clubs have traveled in opposite directions as The Blues have racked up an impressive trophy haul and Forest have even spent a while down in the 3rd tier. However their focus more recently has been in returning to the top flight. They currently lie in 7th place, 4 points behind the play off places.
Their plight this season was looking quite good when they beat Ipswich Town at the beginning of December. However after only gaining 2 points from the following 5 Championship matches meant they fell below their local rivals Derby County. They beat the then division leaders Leeds 4-2 on New Year’s Day and will enter Stamford Bridge with an element of belief, but also with nothing to lose. After all, a cup run is good for any football club, but Forest will want to remain focused on their push for promotion.
Manager Aitor Karanka is under pressure from some parts of the club’s following and will need to tread lightly for this tie. While maintaining the belief that he can get the club promoted this season, that should not come at the expense of a heavy defeat in such a high profile match.
Forest’s next match is a week later on Saturday 12 January at 3pm. It is a Championship match away at struggling Reading. It will be a match that all Forest followers will be expecting their team to win. With a full week to recover, it is likely that Karanka will name a fairly strong side against The Blues.
Michael Hefele, Michael Dawson, Tobias Figueiredo and Lewis Grabban are all out injured, while keeper Costel Pantilimon is a doubt. Otherwise we can expect a similar line up to the one that beat Leeds 4-2, with Daryl Murphy leading their attack.
Maurizio Sarri has a number of decisions to make. The manager is likely to make wholesale changes to his back 4 and give rests to Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard. Olivier Giroud, Pedro and Willian are all unavailable.
We can expect to see Emerson Palmieri, Davide Zappacosta, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill make up the defensive line, while Cesc Fabregas, on possibly his last appearance for The Blues, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will start in midfield. Callum Hudson-Odoi has been back in training this week and is expected to start with Morata leading the attack.
Otherwise there could be a call up for Ethan Ampadu, depending on whether Ross Barkley and / or Mateo Kovacic are named or rested. After all, it is only 3 days later that Chelsea travel to Wembley for the first leg of their League Cup semi final tie against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Sarri is expectant and fairly desperate to win his first major trophy and he will see a semi final as a big opportunity to achieve this. This may lead to the Italian erring on the side of wanting to protect the starting XI he already has in mind for Tuesday’s clash.
Whoever the manager opts for against Nottingham Forest though will be expected to play the Sarri way and boss the possession and passing statistics. But, as we witnessed against Southampton, the match will depend far more on how the Chelsea players use these. Pacier movement of the ball, a lack of lethargy and a more incisive slant to their attacking play should give their opponents little chance of stopping The Blues making it a 20th consecutive 4th round appearance.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue