The cup action keeps coming. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton get you ready for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday…
Just days after Chelsea secured a place in yet another Wembley final, our defence of the most recent trophy to have been snapped up by the club takes centre stage with the visit of an old FA Cup adversary, Sheffield Wednesday.
It is a welcome part of the pageantry of this ancient and venerable challenge competition that visiting clubs are supported in numbers, and the Owls have sold out their allocation of almost 6,000 tickets. It is their first cup visit to Stamford Bridge as a lower division side for 44 years.
Although league football remains off the menu after last weekend’s unpalatable Saturday night fare, Thursday turned out to be a banquet. There are not many occasions a team can savour beating Tottenham twice in one evening – first in normal time, then on penalties.
The shootout was not quite up there with Munich but pretty spot-on, and the alertness and determination of the first 45 minutes set a standard for the remainder of what could still be a very successful campaign. The same could be said for the fantastic atmosphere at the Bridge – the best this season.
Chelsea are seeking to reach the FA Cup fifth round for the 23rd time in 28 attempts.
— Key stat
This campaign could end in a third successive final appearance for the cup holders, who are among 18 clubs to have reached the final over the past quarter-century. Forest last reached the final competition under the great Brian Clough in 1991.
The memorable defeat of Spurs sets up a Carabao Cup final rendezvous with Manchester City, a team the Blues have already beaten 2-0 this season. It will be Chelsea’s 19th major final since 1998, and the 15th of the Roman Abramovich era.
Gonzalo Higuain, meanwhile, had been in the west Londoners’ squad one day before his new club reached yet another cup final. Watching his passionate reaction on the sidelines it was easy to understand how he has managed three goals in as many games against Spurs.
With Higuain joining Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi, memories of the early 1970s are evoked when Hollins, Hudson, and Hutchinson were terrorising opponents.
If selected, the Argentinean will hope to emulate Demba Ba, who hit the net twice on his debut in round three of the FA Cup at Southampton in January 2013.
Although South Yorkshire fans unfortunately face a very difficult journey home because of the unusual late Sunday start, the wider picture shows a smaller percentage of start times have been staggered to suit overseas rights holders than was the case in round three.
As a result 16 teams kick off at 3pm on Saturday, retaining more of the communal ‘Grand National’ finish as the last minute goals hit the net, final whistles blow, and acts of giant-killing are breathlessly reported.
The Owls are the first team from outside the Premier League to visit the Bridge in round four of the FA Cup since Brentford in 2017. The Bees were stung 4-0 that day, but there is no time for complacency against a hard-working Sheffield Wednesday side.
Chelsea will be determined to avoid a recurrence of defeat by another Yorkshire side at the same stage in January 2015. The champions-in-the-making squandered a two-goal lead to lose 2-4 to Bradford City, with former trainee Filipe Morais among the Bantams’ scorers.
‘This is the beauty of football, the beauty of the FA Cup,’ an ‘embarrassed’ Jose Mourinho admitted afterwards. (Superstitious folk should look away now: the referee that day, Andre Marriner, is on duty again this Sunday.)
Prior to that upset, the last lower division side to score four against the Blues had been Liverpool in January 1962. The Bradford defeat turned out to be the last appearance by Mohamed Salah, now at Anfield.
At the time, Chelsea had played 27 FA Cup ties at Stamford Bridge without defeat (excluding penalty shootouts); the record is now one loss in 37. It was only the second occasion since 1994/95 that progress from round four to round five of this competition eluded the west Londoners. The other was Everton after a replay and penalties in 2010/11)
Wednesday are Chelsea’s second most common opponent in the FA Cup (see History section tomorrow), but they have not visited the Fulham Road for 19 years. Supporters quickly snapped up their 5,917 allocation for Sunday – a reminder of the club’s historic size.
The Owls tumbled out of the top flight in May 2000 and have undergone two relegations and two promotions since. Attendances at Hillsborough have held up at around 25,000, though this season the average is a little lower, and Steel City rivals United have proved a bigger draw since returning to the second tier two seasons ago. Worse for Owls fans, the Blades are in the hunt for direct promotion while the blue half of Sheffield mulls over 16th place.
All quite disappointing for a team that were early members of the Football League in 1892 and one of the Premier League's founding clubs 100 years later, and the once regular host of FA Cup semi-finals.
Sunday brings the South Yorkshire club’s sixth appearance in round four of this competition since 2001, only half of which led to a fifth round place. They reached this stage by winning a replay against Luton (temporarily managed by one-time Blues striker Mick Harford).
It is fair to say caretaker coach Steve Agnew is as excited about Sunday as any Wednesday supporter. ‘What greater prize in the next round,’ he said, ‘than a trip to Stamford Bridge and the chance to play one of the best sides in Europe?’
The former midfielder actually has a 100 per cent playing record against the Blues to defend. He was a substitute in the Sunderland team that beat Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea 3-0 in 1996, our last appearance at Roker Park.
Meanwhile, the prize fund for this season’s competition was doubled a year ago, with the eventual winners scooping £3.6m.
Under an initiative being trialled this season Maurizio Sarri was shown a yellow card by referee Martin Atkinson on Thursday, reportedly for questioning why a card had not been shown to a Tottenham player. The head coach was understandably frustrated that after watching nine fouls by Spurs players in the first half go unpunished (against one infringement by the hosts), a Chelsea name had been the first to go in his book after the break.
The system applies to cup competitions, not the Premier League, but if a coach accrues four yellow cards a one-match ban is imposed.
Sunday’s match is one of six in round four selected for trialling the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system. VAR Graham Scott may only assist the referee in four potentially match-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, straight red cards shown or not shown, and mistaken identity.
If the scores are level after 90 minutes there will be a replay at Hillsborough early next month.
Bournemouth were knocked out of the FA Cup in round three by Brighton and have a free weekend ahead of our vital Premier League visit to the Vitality on Wednesday.
Chelsea hope to extend a run of seven straight WSL victories when fourth-placed Birmingham visit Kingsmeadow at 2pm on Sunday. The visitors held Emma Hayes’ side to a 0-0 draw at Damson Park in October. Tickets are available on the gate.
The Under-18s return to action a week on Saturday with a London derby at Arsenal, one place and three points ahead in the table. The Blues won the reverse fixture 3-1 back in September.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Our 10th straight FA Cup success at the Bridge.
FA Cup fourth round fixtures featuring Premier League sides
Arsenal v Manchester United 7.55pm BBC One (Man United won 3-1)
Shrewsbury v Wolves 3pm
Brighton v West Brom 3pm
Newcastle v Watford 3pm
Manchester City v Burnley 3pm
Millwall v Everton 5.30pm BBC One
AFC Wimbledon v West Ham 7.45pm BT Sport