A comfortable mid-week win over Olympiakos in the Champions League has set Chelsea up nicely for another cup game this weekend, with lower-league Barnsley standing in the way of an FA Cup semi-final date. The Championship side typified the spirit of the oldest club competition in the World by beating Liverpool at Anfield in the last round, and will be looking for a second shock win over Avram Grant’s Blues. But with League Cup disappointment still fresh in the minds of Grant and his men, Chelsea will be going all out to ensure that lightning will not strike twice for the Tykes.As with Wednesday’s European win, first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech will miss out. His ankle injury will keep him out of this game as well as the mid-week meeting with Premier League whipping boys Derby County. Carlo Cudicini should step in again, and with the Italian stopper barely getting his gloves dirty against the Greek champions, expect him to be fresh and on top-form against Barnsley. With games coming thick and fast this month, a slightly changed eleven will probably take the field, and their could be squad places for Claudio Pizarro and Steve Sidwell, who are excluded from European action and desperate for match minutes. Frank Lampard is available for selection after his dubious red card against West Ham was rescinded along with his proposed three game ban.
Barnsley will be looking to go one better than the 1-1 with Blackpool on Tuesday which took them up to 16th place in the Championship table. They will have to attempt the unthinkable without several players however. Lewin Nyatanga and Jon Macken are cup-tied while there are injuries to Marciano Van Homoet, Heinz Muller, Paul Reid and former Everton midfielder Anderson de Silva which could prove costly for Simon Davey’s side. Top-scorer and hero of the Liverpool tie Brian Howard will be one to watch, and could come back to haunt the Blues, who were close to signing the midfielder five years ago after an impressive trial period, only for Roman Abramovich to enter the club and promptly sign players like Juan Sebastian Veron instead. Maybe Howard would have been a better acquisition!
The last time Chelsea met Barnsley was in the Premier League back in the 1997/98 season. The Stamford Bridge match ended 2-0 to the home side with Gianluca Vialli and Mark Hughes scoring, and the last time the Blues played at Oakwell, Vialli was on the score sheet again. The Italian striker bagged four goals following two from Dan Petrescu and Gustavo Poyet to send Chelsea fans home deliriously happy with a 6-0 away win.
Much has been made of the last FA Cup meeting however, which poignantly also took place at Oakwell. In 1989, Barnsley were the big winners, with four second-half goals winning the tie against a poor Chelsea side. The tykes will be dreaming of success again, but by this margin? The Blues have really turned things around since the League Cup Final defeat and are playing not only successfully, but also stylishly. Barnsley will probably attempt to kick the creativity out of the Chelsea team to put it bluntly, so a direct approach may have to be called upon if things get desperate. With 6000 tickets available to Chelsea fans (5999 minus mine) hopefully we will get a good atmosphere to drive the players on. We are just 3 wins away from back-to-back FA Cup wins. The journey to Wembley continues on Saturday.
Prediction: 4-0 to Barnsley obviously! Just kidding, the way we have been playing has been very impressive and I expect us to push on and get another win at Oakwell. It could be tight at times but we will leave the happier side. 2-0 Chelsea for me.