Following the resumption of the Premier League, which has served up two wins out of two for Chelsea, the FA Cup is back on the agenda this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview Sunday’s game in the Midlands…
Football is still, as Chelsea’s Jimmy Greaves observed, a funny old game. Who would ever have imagined Frank Lampard winning Liverpool the Premier League title before Steven Gerrard?
Yet, six years after Demba Ba capitalised on a miscontrol by Gerrard to break Reds’ hearts, errors by Manchester City allowed the Londoners to take three vital points, crowning the Merseysiders in doing so. Three of the last six title battles have been settled at Stamford Bridge.
Back in 2014 the crestfallen coach was of course Brendan Rodgers, and it his current Leicester City side that now stands between the rampant Blues and the last four of the FA Cup. Should the Blues prevail it would set up our third semi-final appearance in four seasons – a remarkable record. In contrast, it is 38 years since the hosts reached that stage.
The past 20 FA Cup winners
Chelsea 6Arsenal 6Liverpool 2Manchester City 2Manchester Utd 2Portsmouth 1Wigan 1
In a century of FA Cup meetings, Chelsea have never lost a tie to the Foxes, and Brendan Rodgers has never beaten the team where he was once a successful youth and reserve team coach.
Omens are very good
A remarkable pattern has emerged in this season’s competition. Each team faced by Chelsea so far in the FA Cup had previously been beaten twice en-route to the Blues lifting the trophy: Nottingham Forest (in 1999/00, 2006/07), Hull City (1999/00, 2017/18) and Liverpool (1996/97, 2011/12).
Now come Leicester, and we have progressed on each of the six occasions the teams have been paired. Remarkably, the last four victories were all precursors to success in the final.
All to play for
With the league title decided, this weekend offers a place in the last four of the only domestic trophy still to be decided. Chelsea have won seven and drawn two of our last 10 trips to Leicester in all competitions. The two league encounters this season ended in draws.
With the intensity of the schedule, Frank Lampard may make several personnel changes. Although this is a cup he would love to win again, Wednesday brings more league action, leaving just a two days free in the turnaround.
The Blues’ leading goalscorer in this competition is Ross Barkley and he, Mateo Kovacic and Pedro are Chelsea’s only starters in every FA Cup match to date. Clearly, though, Christian Pulisic is the man in form, with two goals in two league games since returning from injury. The Pennsylvanian is now the top flight’s leading marksman aged 21 or under.
Foxes since February
‘They are a top-class team,’ Brendan Rodgers said of the Blues, his former club, on Friday. ‘They’ve got players who are winners.’
When Chelsea and Leicester City met at the King Power Stadium back in February, the Londoners were trailing the hosts by eight points. The 2-2 draw that day was the start of a run of just one top-flight win in seven games for the Foxes.
On a table of form over the past six Premier League outings, Chelsea are third and Leicester 14th. And with two straight top-flight wins secured since the restart, Frank Lampard’s side have moved to one point behind the third-placed East Midlanders. This tie was originally set to be played on 21 March, of course.
Rodgers has already tasted defeat in a semi-final this season – Aston Villa knocked them out of the Carabao Cup – and it is expected they consider securing a Champions League slot the priority.
Despite the continued absence of influential right-back Ricardo Pereira, the coach has urged his side to rediscover their attacking identity: running off the ball, stretching the defences, and creating openings for runners like Jamie Vardy.
After Wilfred Ndidi’s return to midfield, Rodgers had seemed settled on a 4-1-4-1 formation but matched Brighton’s 4-4-2 during the recent home stalemate, pairing Kelechi Iheanacho with Vardy upfront before reverting with 20 minutes to go.
Not so sultry Sunday
In line with Premier League protocol, FA Cup referees will pause for a drinks break in the middle of each half this weekend. On Thursday it was a shade under 30˚c around kick-off time at Stamford Bridge, and it was noticeable that the Blues’ best periods tended to coincide with the moments following the midpoint fluid intake.
At around 17˚C, the temperature during Sunday’s match is forecast to be marginally cooler than the average June day in Leicester, but still 10 degrees hotter than is typical for March, when this match was originally set to be played.
Seventy years ago on Monday (29 June 1950), Chelsea’s Roy Bentley was involved in one of the England national team’s biggest humiliations – a 1-0 World Cup defeat in the sweltering heat of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Wartime guest Pensioner Walter Winterbottom, in charge of the Three Lions, had arranged for them to have access to oxygen at half-time and full-time, but the players found it was of little benefit. Bentley suffered breathing difficulties and observed, ‘From the general standard of play I guess the other chaps were not finding it easy either.’ Let us hope Captain America does not remind too many of his team-mates about this particular anniversary.
FA Cup arrangements
The remainder of the FA Cup will be played behind closed doors, so Hermann Koenig’s traditional pre-match ‘Post Horn Gallop’ will resound around empty King Power stands.
All ties this weekend will also begin with a minute’s applause in recognition of the incredible dedication of National Health Service staff during the pandemic, and end on the day. Should scores be level after 90 minutes, extra-time, and penalty kicks if required, will determine who goes through.
In line with the International Football Association Board’s ruling in response to the pandemic, extra substitutes will be permitted for the remainder of this competition. The new maximum in normal time is five replacements (up from three), with a sixth allowed should the game extend into extra-time (previously four). Will coaches now be more tempted to bring on players late in the game who are penalty specialists as a result?
Bookings count only in the competition in which they occur and two yellow cards accrued before the semi-final will lead to a suspension. Chelsea’s Reece James, Mateo Kovacic and Kurt Zouma are on one booking, as is Caglar Soyuncu of Leicester.
For the teams who progress, the draw for the semi-finals will be made by a sanitised Alan Shearer in a socially distanced pitch-side setting during half-time of the Newcastle-Manchester City quarter-final tie around 7.20pm on Sunday.
The matches will be played on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 July, with the postponement of rugby league’s Coral Challenge Cup Final on the first of those dates making Wembley available. The showpiece at the same stadium on 1 August will be dedicated to mental health awareness and called the Heads Up FA Cup final.
Another knock-on effect of the coronavirus lockdown for next season could be the removal of all replays from this competition in an effort to ease fixture congestion.
Chelsea’s TV turn-on
This match will be on BT Sport, and viewing figures may be be affected by Southampton’s league trip to Watford, also at 4pm, which is free-to-view on Sky Sports’ channel, Pick.The BBC audience for Chelsea’s thrilling 2-0 victory over Liverpool in round five was very good. It peaked at 6.8 million, and there were a further 1.6 million online.
The Blues’ epic FA Cup replay tussle with Leeds in April 1970 retains the honour of having the highest UK television audience ever for a club football match with 28.49 million viewers.
FA Cup quarter-final fixtures
SaturdayNorwich v Manchester United 5.30pm (BBC One)
SundaySheffield United v Arsenal 1pm (BT Sport)Leicester v Chelsea 4pm (BT Sport)Newcastle v Manchester City 6.30pm (BBC One)
Premier League fixtures and results
SaturdayAston Villa 0 Wolves 1
SundayWatford v Southampton 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
MondayCrystal Palace v Burnley 8pm (Amazon Prime Video)