This Tuesday evening Chelsea host runaway league leaders Liverpool in the 5th round of this season’s FA Cup. It is a match that highlights all sorts of different priorities within the current state of top flight football in this country.
This might be the world’s oldest footballing cup competition, but the entire last 16 round has been moved to a set of midweek fixtures, devoid of any replays. If scores are level at 90 minutes, extra time and a penalty shoot out will be used to decide a winner on the night.
Each round that your team contested in used to be eagerly anticipated, with big FA Cup ties being among the biggest attendances of the season. Now, with huge television revenues, the top clubs have their finishing place within the league as such a priority that even the latter stages of this prestigious competition have been adjusted to make way for a winter break for the top tier clubs.
And it was a break that currently doesn’t appear to have helped either squads, especially Chelsea’s. The Blues head into this match with up to 6 first team players unable to start.
Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and N’Golo Kante have been joined by Andreas Christensen in missing out completely, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek used a Premier League 2 match to get a full 90 minutes of competitive football as he regains his fitness and edge after a long term injury.
These players aside, what is the greater priority for Frank as he chooses his starting XI. Does he risk utilising his strongest available line up in an effort to progress to the quarter finals or does he rest some key players to focus on the remaining 10 Premier League fixtures this season?
The truth will lie somewhere in between, but closer to which end of the scale. Surely any player which a niggle or struggling for full fitness will be preserved.
Players who have featured less in the last few matches are more likely to get an opportunity. Willian, Ross Barkley and Kurt Zouma are potentially such candidates.
Youngsters Tino Anjorin and Armando Broja were missing from the development squad victory over Everton on Monday evening will surely be included in the squad to face Liverpool. Billy Gilmour will also be involved and could even start.
Jorginho is likely to keep his place as he is now suspended for the next 2 league matches and also Chelsea’s trip to Munich in a couple of weeks.
One position of interest will be Chelsea’s goalkeeper. This match is an opportunity for Kepa Arrizabalaga to return to the team. Not that Willy Caballero has under performed in his absence, but hopefully the club’s record signing is mentally fully ready to return and to prove to everyone that he still can be the player we all hope he will develop in to.
There are no indications that Frank will revert back to just 2 centre backs and we could see both Marcos Alonso and Reece James enjoying more advanced rolls once again in their wing back positions.
As for the visitors, Jurgen Klopp has generally given this competition a low priority. After all, this is the first time he has led Liverpool into the 5th round.
However this season is a bit different for his team. A much coveted league title is only weeks away from being fulfilled, allowing them to potentially gamble with a stronger line up, provided the manager wants to.
They face Bournemouth on Saturday, but need to then turn around a 1-0 deficit against Atletico Madrid next Wednesday if they are to continue to defend their European crown.
Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyde are all definitely absent for the trip to Stamford Bridge but we can still expect to come up against a fairly strong Liverpool side.
Despite their great showing in the replay against Shrewsbury Town in the last round, The Red’s youngsters are unlikely to feature too much.
Despite all these variables, a latter round cup tie, under the floodlights in front of a sold out stadium between 2 of the country’s top clubs should still be a thunderous event.
No matter which manager shows a greater priority to the competition, all the players out there involved know the result could be a big step closer to another cup final for them.
Both teams crave winning trophies and we can only hope that, despite the authorities steadily diminishing the competition, we are served up with a classic cup tie.
And, of course, a Chelsea win!
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue