Domestic action takes centre stage this weekend with the quest for an FA Cup semi-final. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview our all Premier League tie…
Just eight teams now remain of the jumbo 737 entrants to the 2017/18 FA Cup, two steps from touching down in the pomp and ceremony of the final. Even the £1,500 prize money presented to winners in the Extra Preliminary Round has inflated to £360,000 for quarter-final victors. It is all about glory, not gifts, this weekend.
The two clubs have had very different preparations. While the Blues were bowing out in Barcelona on official business, Claude Puel’s Leicester squad were six hundred miles south in Malaga on a four-day training camp and bonding exercise.
Now seven-time FA Cup winners Chelsea, one of the seven surviving top-flight sides, are aiming to reach the FA Cup semi-finals for the 11th time in 22 seasons at the expense of the Foxes, runners-up in this competition on four occasions. The last name in the hat will come from this Sunday afternoon showdown.
Chelsea have won five of our six meetings at the Leicester's current stadium.
The current league champions are the only side to have reached a semi-final in each of the major domestic and overseas competition over the past 20 years, and have reached the last four more times than any other club in that period.
|Arsenal||Chelsea||Liverpool||Man City||Man Utd||Spurs|
|UEFA Cup/Europa League||1||1||3||0||1||0|
|Cup Winners’ Cup||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|FIFA Club World Cup||0||1||1||0||1||0|
This weekend’s hosts are currently eighth in the Premier League, but with a goal difference of plus two, 23 inferior to fifth-placed Chelsea’s. Our league visit to Burnley this weekend was of course postponed and Arsenal, in sixth and already out of the cup, are unable to capitalise as they were due to play Puel’s team.
Prior to Saturday’s 4-1 thumping of bottom club West Brom, the East Midlanders’ only win in six matches came in a 1-0 against Sheffield United of the Championship in round five of this competition. League One sides Fleetwood Town and Peterborough United were seen off in previous rounds. Chelsea have overcome top-flight Newcastle United and Championship clubs Norwich City and Hull City.
Last season’s competition ushered in several changes, not least the official renaming of round six matches as quarter-finals. Other tweaks meant matches at this stage that were tied after 90 minutes would go to extra-time and a penalty shoot-out rather than a replay, and a fourth substitute was permitted for the first time if the game extended to 120 minutes.
All the 2016/17 games were settled in normal time, so one of this season’s quarter-finals could be the first settled by extra-time or penalty kicks on the day.
More recent proposals from the FA, designed to facilitate a winter break during the 2018/19 season, would have fifth round FA Cup games played midweek and settled on the night too. Replays at the semi-final stage were scrapped way back in 1999/2000.
Three of the four quarter-final ties – this game, plus Swansea versus Spurs and Manchester United-Brighton – will use a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to monitor for game-changing errors or oversights. The semi-finals and final will also trial the new technology, as will this summer’s FIFA World Cup.
At a conference to announce the Russia 2018 decision, Pierluigi Collina, chair of the FIFA referees’ committee, and IFAB technical director David Elleray revealed that trials around the world showed an improvement in accuracy of officials’ decisions from 93 per cent to 98.8 per cent.
Put another way, they believe there is one major error every three games without VAR, and just one in 19 with the system. Providing the technology is accurate enough, Collina added, a player straying offside by as little as a centimetre can be called ‘clear and obvious’.
VAR trials are already changing the behaviour of assistant referees, who are advised to allow play to continue if there is any doubt as to an offside, as those monitoring video feeds will pick up any infringement.
Mindful of the crowd communications issues experienced in England and elsewhere, IFAB believe it should take no longer than one minute to correct mistakes, with ‘maximum benefit, minimum interference’ the aim. Consideration is also being put to showing replays on big screens inside stadiums, or as feeds on smartphone apps.
For those making it through from the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, the draw for the semi-finals of this competition, to be performed by Blues legends Gianfranco Zola and Petr Cech, will take place at the conclusion of our match, live on BBC One.
Next week, for the first time in Chelsea Ladies history, the Blues play in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women's Champions League. Having beaten Bayern Munich and FC Rosengard to get there, only Montpellier stand in the way of reaching the final four.
The second leg is closer to home: a 7.05pm kick-off on Wednesday 28 March at the Kingsmeadow Stadium, tickets £6, £3 juniors/seniors.
Chelsea’s Under-19s showed resilience to secure a place at the UEFA Youth League semi-finals for the third time by winning away to Real Madrid 4-2 on Wednesday. Joe Edwards’ side were leading 3-2 when reduced to 10 men by Jacob Maddox’s dismissal, but held out under pressure, Harvey St Clair confirming victory with a last-minute fourth.
The semi-finals and final will be played at the Colovray Stadium in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday 20 and Sunday 23 April respectively. Chelsea’s talented youngsters play Porto in the last four, while Barcelona face Manchester City.
FA Cup quarter-final fixtures
Swansea v Tottenham 12.15pm BT Sport
Manchester United v Brighton 7.45pm BT Sport
Wigan v Southampton 1.30pm BBC One
Leicester v Chelsea 4.30pm BBC One
Bournemouth v West Brom 3pm
Huddersfield v Crystal Palace 3pm
Stoke v Everton 3pm
Liverpool v Watford 5.30pm BT Sport