There is a wait this weekend for round five’s big FA Cup tie. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are hoping for a blue Monday…
After the first away win of 2019 in Sweden, the focus now shifts to Chelsea versus Cottonopolis in both trophy hunts: Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final next weekend, and Manchester United in round five of the FA Cup.
It was certainly raining in Manchester on our last visit (goals, not the city’s famous drizzle), so perhaps it is for the best that this meeting is in the climate of the capital. Next stop, we hope, is the quarter-finals as the Blues target an 11th straight FA Cup success at the Bridge.
The cup holders, unbeaten in nine home matches against the Red Devils, seven of them victories, will certainly aim to cause Man United more trouble than their trip to our neighbours’ place last weekend, where Fulham were beaten 3-0 by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s revived side. In midweek, however, Paris Saint-Germain brought the Mancunians up short with a 2-0 beating in what the Norwegian called a reality check.
Chelsea are aiming to end Manchester United’s FA Cup aspirations for the third successive season, including beating them in last season’s final.
— Key stat
There are just seven Premier League teams left in the competition at this stage – and it will be at least one fewer after this rematch for last season’s finalists. Five clubs from the Championship remain in contention after QPR’s exit last night, two from League One. League Two is valiantly represented by Newport County.
Back in December, with six English clubs set to contest the knockout rounds of European competitions, the FA’s Professional Game Board took the decision to bring forward changes that were supposed to kick in next season.
As a result, this round of the FA Cup now offers the novel experience of no match replays. From this season forth, fifth-round games will conclude on the day, after extra-time and penalties if required. The move is intended to ease fixtures congestion during a busy February.
Despite this week’s big setback in the Champions League, Solskjaer’s success as caretaker coach has been impressive and his desire to win trophies is tangible. He has turned around the season of a club defender Phil Jones suggested had become ‘a bit of a laughing stock’, and has done so by tapping into old sources.
Not least of those is Sir Alex Ferguson’s unflappable former lieutenant Mike Phelan. The recalled assistant has helped rediscover a system that enables United’s offensive players to face and run at their opponents rather than play with their backs to goal. Like United teams of old, they play the ball swiftly out to the flanks, dash to the line and play it quickly into the penalty area.
It may be a coincidence that the reboot malfunctioned for the first time against PSG (and minus the injured Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard who both went off in that game and will miss Monday’s) but Ferguson’s system sometimes had problems in the Champions League until he brought in tacticians such as Carlos Queiroz with subtle, less-attacking approaches, especially away from home.
Although 7.30pm is an unusual kick-off time, Monday FA Cup matches are more common than some care to remember. In fact, this is the 26th occasion in just under 100 years we have played on the first day of the week in the competition. The Blues have won the past three, the most recent two of which were also against the Red Devils, in 2013 and 2017.
Sixteen Monday matches were replays, with one involving Preston in 1969 forced by the abandonment of a game the previous Wednesday because of floodlight failure. The first instance, 98 years ago, a 3-1 success against Reading in January 1921, was a second replay staged at the Bridge after home and away draws.
Overall, 12 FA Cup games on a Monday have ended in victory for Chelsea, seven were drawn and six lost.
This Monday is one of two round-five ties, along with Brighton-Derby, trialling the Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) to review goals, penalty decisions, straight red cards shown or not shown, and mistaken identity.
In the previous round, Sheffield Wednesday were originally awarded a spot-kick that was correctly overturned after review; without VAR the Championship team would have taken the lead.
Crystal Palace knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup by two goals to nil, so the Lilywhites, our next Premier League visitors on Wednesday week, are not in action this weekend.
Emma Hayes will hope her side’s come back from 0-2 down to 2-2 away to WSL leaders Man City will stand them in good stead when they entertain second-placed Arsenal on Sunday in their FA Cup tomorrow. Tickets are available on the day.
The Under-19s are aiming to reach the Round of 16 of the UEFA Youth League by beating Monaco on Tuesday. The draw takes place on Friday 22 February from 1pm.
For the first half century of our history, Chelsea suffered countless jibes about the lack of silverware at Stamford Bridge in contrast to the fortunes splashed on players. One of the wittier examples was music hall star Norman Long’s 1933 ditty, ‘On The Day That Chelsea Went And Won The Cup’.
Among a host of other supposedly impossible events accompanying the Pensioners’ imagined moment of glory, Long joked that ‘The sun came out in Manchester and funny things like that... ’
Alongside the mockery there was the defiant spirit of people like Harry Rogers. Every year between the 1920s and 1950s Rogers, whose family owned a cafe on Haverstock Hill, Chalk Farm, defiantly maintained an FA Cup tradition.
Each January without fail a noticeboard would appear outside and he would hand out cards on which was printed (in blue ink): ‘This is to certify that the bearer is entitled to a free dinner when Chelsea wins the FA Cup. Valid for one month after the Cup Final.’
The eatery had space for 60 diners and was largely patronised by north London bus drivers and conductors, but Harry was a lifelong supporter of west London’s finest.
In March 1950 Chelsea reached the semi-finals for only the second time since Rogers embarked on his cup ritual by beating Matt Busby’s Man United 2-0 (see We Have History tomorrow for more). Harry reckoned around 3,000 cards were in circulation at that time, so could be forgiven for feeling relieved when the Pensioners agonisingly lost a last-four replay to Arsenal. Perish that thought.
‘I reckon it would cost me about £300,’ Harry chirruped, ahead of the semi, ‘but it would be worth it to see Chelsea win at Wembley – I’ve supported them since I was a kid.’ Happily, he lived long enough to be able to savour the Blues’ first cup triumph at Old Trafford in 1970.
We current fans are the fortunate ones, enjoying not just a multitude of cup successes at home and abroad, but league titles about which the likes of Harry Rogers could only fantasise. There have been some tough results to take recently, but this is still a golden era for Chelsea, with the promise of yet more silverware to come.
Finally, there will be a minute’s applause before all FA Cup kick-offs as a mark of respect for England’s great goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who sadly died this week. Everyone at Chelsea would also like to pass on our sincere condolences to Manchester Utd and the family and friends of their long-serving youth coach, Eric Harrison, who passed away on Thursday.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN ON MONDAY EVENING…
Into the quarter-finals for the 13th time in 18 seasons.
FA Cup fifth round fixtures
QPR 0 Watford 1
Brighton v Derby 12.30pm - BT Sport
AFC Wimbledon v Millwall 3pm
Newport County v Manchester City 5.30pm - BT Sport
Bristol City v Wolves 1pm - BT Sport
Doncaster v Crystal Palace 4pm - BBC One
Swansea v Brentford 4pm BBC - Wales
Chelsea v Manchester United 7.30pm - BBC One