If it’s early January, it must be FA Cup time. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton survey Sunday’s game when the Blues will be aiming to begin another long cup campaign…

Premier League Chelsea and League Two Morecambe meet in round three of the FA Cup for the first time in any competition or friendly. The Shrimps are the Blues’ first fourth-level opposition since 6 January 2007, when Macclesfield Town were beaten 6-1 – including a hat-trick from the Blues’ current head coach, Frank Lampard.

The Lancastrians are the Londoners’ fourth new opponents this season after Champions League group rivals Sevilla, Krasnodar and Rennes. They take the total number of different teams the Blues have played competitively to 193.

The eight-time FA Cup-winners have been paired with tier-four sides nine times previously in the competition, winning seven of those. The two defeats, though, were at Stamford Bridge against minnows also from the north-west: Crewe Alexandra (1960/61) and Wigan (1979/80).

Sadly for Shrimps fans, their big day out at the Bridge will have to be savoured from home on the BBC; all FA Cup ties are being covered live this weekend.

A Chelsea victory would extend an impressive sequence: last season’s runners-up have reached every fourth round of this competition since 1999.

Chelsea team news

The extension to five substitutes allowed from a bench of nine in this season’s FA Cup favours the stronger clubs on paper, though it might also even up the fitness levels for lower league sides.

What it does mean is that if it looks like there is a chance of a more experimental starting 11 slipping up, the ‘cavalry’ can always be called. Lampard also has to weigh up the confidence value of a goal to any player in need of one. Over the past four league games Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud have weighed in with three and two strikes respectively, while Timo Werner contributed an assist.

While of course showing the opposition all due respect, matches against non-Premier League opposition can permit a top-flight coach the chance to experiment with players’ positions. The Blues were able to start the front three of Christian Pulisic, Werner and Hakim Ziyech for the first time ever against Manchester City, and it will be interesting to see if that trio has another run out against the Lancastrians from League Two.Behind them, Kai Havertz set up a goal last weekend for the first time since returning from a bout of Covid. His astute cross came from the left flank – the only position he has not started in since joining the Blues last summer. The silky 21-year-old has already enjoyed himself against Championship Barnsley this season, netting a hat-trick in the Carabao Cup.

Sunday’s midfield make-up could offer a clue as to who will replace N’Golo Kante at Fulham next Friday, when he is suspended.

The extra replacements available this weekend may mean more youngsters on show, too. Since becoming manager Lampard has handed eight Academy players their first team bow: Tino Anjorin, Armando Broja (on loan at Vitesse), Marc Guehi (playing on loan at Swansea), Tariq Lamptey (sold to Brighton), Ian Maatsen (loan at Charlton), as well as Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Mason Mount.

The pandemic has meant more planning than usual. Development squad players Anjorin, Lewis Bate, Henry Lawrence, Tino Livramento and Jude Soonsup-Bell had to enter the first-team bubble some time ago. Helpfully, the Under-23s team have had no fixtures since 18 December, and the next PL2 action is six days hence.

Shrimps finding the net

Morecambe have been in self-imposed isolation since Grimsby’s visit on Boxing Day – their fifth victory in six league outings – following a Covid outbreak.

The Shrimps returned to training on Tuesday evening and perhaps a break from the League Two treadmill has aided their attempt to make giant-killing history. However, they were tested again on Thursday, so their line-up for Sunday remains uncertain.

Chelsea will be wise to keep Morecambe at bay, especially the suddenly prolific Carlos Mendes Gomes, as they have found the net in every match since mid-October.

The Shrimps’ leading goal scorer and creator is general Adam Phillips, but it is their Senegalese/Spanish forward whose hot form has brought a player of the month nomination. Yann Songo’o has also dominated the middle of the park in recent matches.

They have won half their League Two away trips this season, and scored in 90 per cent of them, leaving them three points short of a promotion slot. The Shrimps score almost 80 per cent of their away goals after the break, and they can be effective at set-plays and in counter-attacks.

League Two manager of the month nominee Derek Adams, a Glaswegian formerly at Ross County, likes his players to be capable of adapting to different formations and approaches within games to secure results. He has deployed a back three and four, and has asked them to ditch the usual passing play for a more direct style of play when required.

Adams is likely to take a cautious approach on Sunday, mindful that a Chelsea side hurt by recent setbacks will aim to draw first blood at the Bridge.

How to watch Chelsea versus Morecambe

The FA Cup final was once the only live club game shown in the entire English football season, let alone this competition, and viewed around the globe.

This season, however, for the first time ever all 32 round three FA Cup matches will be broadcast or streamed. Eight of them will be carried across various BBC platforms, and Chelsea-Morecambe will be streamed on the BBC website and iPlayer.

When is the next FA Cup draw?

For the teams that make it through, the draws for the fourth and fifth rounds of the FA Cup will take place on BBC 2 and BT Sport 1 from 7.10pm on Monday. Unusually, the couples for round five will be selected straight after those for round four at 7.23pm.

FA Cup 2020/21 rules

There have been a few amendments to the rulebook for this season, most obviously the removal of all replays and the allowance of five substitutes, drawn from a bench of nine, in three batches excluding half-time. If a match is all-square after 90 minutes, extra time will be played and, if necessary, penalty kicks will decide the outcome.

The FA Cup logo has been updated to all-red and the sleeve badge of each club will be tagged with the number of times they have won the trophy. Chelsea will sport the numeral 8.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system will be used in ties hosted at Premier League stadiums.

Morecambe’s round three story

The Shrimps triumphed at Wembley in the 1974 FA Trophy, but have reached this stage of the FA Cup just three times previously. In 1961/62, the season they were crowned Lancashire Combinations champions for the second time, a home defeat by Weymouth ended their cup dreams.

More recently, as a Conference side, they were back twice in three seasons, both times losing out to Ipswich Town. A 3-0 home loss in 2001 was followed in 2003 by a 4-0 defeat at Portman Road.

To arrive at the third round this season they clinched a 1-0 victory at Maldon and Tiptree, then won an epic home tussle with Solihull Moors in round two by four goals to two.

Underdogs tamed?

Chelsea used to be renowned for losing to lower league sides in the cup. Each January for decades our precarious relationship with silverware was flagged by Swiss Cottage-based cafe owner Harry Rogers’ sign, which promised free meals to all his customers ‘When Chelsea win the Cup.’ And he was a Blues supporter.

A music hall ditty by Norman Long also proved popular in the 1930s as it amusingly fantasised about all the other world-shattering events that would happen if Chelsea ever managed to lift the trophy at Wembley.

How different things have been in the modern era. In eight of the past 10 seasons the Blues have not lifted the FA Cup, the winning opponents were established Premier League sides: Arsenal (twice), Everton (twice), Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City (twice). The notable exceptions were Championship club Barnsley in 2008, and, most infamously, League One Bradford in 2015.

The last team from as far down the pyramid as Morecambe to knock Chelsea out of this competition were Crewe Alexandra of the old Division Four in a 1-2 loss at the Bridge almost exactly 60 years ago on 7 January 1961.From 1979 to 1981 the Blues fell at this first hurdle in successive seasons, the worst sequence in the club’s history. That has not happened since Manchester United’s visit in 1998, and for the past two years Nottingham Forest have been beaten by the same 2-0 scoreline in London.

Programme honours The Doc

Tommy Doherty, who died last week, is the cover star and main focus of this weekend’s match day programme, which can be bought here. The Doc was the second manager to take Chelsea to an FA Cup final, in 1967, beating Leeds in the semi thanks to a Tony Hateley header from a Charlie Cooke cross – both Docherty signings.

FA Cup third round fixtures featuring Premier League sides

FridayAston Villa v Liverpool 7.45pm (BT Sport)Wolves v Crystal Palace 7.45pm (BT Sport)

SaturdayEverton v Rotherham 12pm (BT Sport)Blackpool v West Brom 3pm (BT Sport)Bristol Rovers v Sheffield Utd 3pm (BT Sport)Burnley v MK Dons 3pm (FA player)QPR v Fulham 3pm (BBC Digital)Stoke v Leicester 3pm (BT Sport)Arsenal v Newcastle 5.30pm (BBC One)Man Utd v Watford 8pm (BT Sport)Southampton v Shrewsbury 8pm (BT Sport) postponed

SundayChelsea v Morecambe 1.30pm (BBC Digital)Crawley v Leeds 1.30pm (BBC One)Man City v Birmingham 1.30pm (BBC Digital)Marine v Tottenham 5pm (BBC One)Newport v Brighton 7.45pm (BT Sport)

MondayStockport v West Ham 8pm (BT Sport)