FA Cup weekend is nearly upon us, where we host Bradford City in the Fourth Round. It always around this time of year where the clichés get rolled out about upsetting the odds, and the ‘Magic of the Cup’, and every year there tends to be a massive upset which sees a professional team get dumped out at the hands of part-timers (Hartlepool, I’m looking at you), or where a megabucks Premier League side gets dispatched by a lower league side – QPR, for example, getting rolled over by Sheffield United.
In fairness, if anyone was to pick out a result from the last round which was screaming ‘cupset’, it would be that one at Loftus Road. A true upset, where a top, top team have fell by the wayside is yet to happen this year. Which of course begs the question, is it possible that it could be our turn? What do Bradford have that could cause the most shocking of losses for us?
Well, history would point to another fruitful run into further reaches of the cup. Chelsea have lifted the trophy four times in the last 7 editions and as a result are rightly considered one of the favourites to go all the way again this year. After making light work of Championship side Watford in the last round, Bradford should be an easy task.
Bookmakers are quoting odds as low as 1/20 (that’s £20 in, for £1 return for those non-gambling types) for us to beat the Bantams, however there are several things to consider that makes Bradford seem tricky customers.
Of course, Bradford cannot be mentioned without considering their League Cup run of 2012/13. They dispatched of three Premier League sides during that run to Wembley (Wigan, Arsenal, and Aston Villa in a two-legged tie) before ultimately succumbing to Swansea City, meaning the Bantams are no stranger to a cup run, or beating a big name or three.
Their style of play is one is something of a throwback – manager Phil Parkinson tends to employ a 4-4-2, with balls into the box their preferred method of attack. Their top goalscorer this season is James Hanson, with 7 goals. Not quite Diego Costa levels of scoring, but respectable nonetheless. The towering striker stands at 6’4”, and bullied his way into the goals during that cup run of 2013. His strike partner comes in the shape of equally lanky Jon Stead, a striker who boasts over 400 professional games during a journeyed career, and in the unlikely event of a brace at Stamford Bridge, would hit 100 career goals.
I personally believe this strike partnership is key for any hopes of a Bradford upset. Stead is a striker who has proven he can score at any level, and his experience could help the Yorkshire side keep their cool and can be relied upon to take any chances that fall his way. Hanson though, is the bigger threat of two, and will cause problems for our centre backs all day with his bustling and physical approach. Gary Cahill, should he play, needs to be especially careful given his run of poor form, as Hanson may well choose the England international as his most profitable target. Given Hanson’s size and aerial threat, it might be a job for Kurt Zouma or even Branislav Ivanovic to step in from right back to deal with him. Assuming it would be Zouma, his speed as well as aerial prowess should provide us with an entertaining battle between the two.
Those who keep an eye on our former Blues will recognise two names that will likely appear on the starting line-up for the away side. Billy Knott and Filipe Morais had featured for our youth teams in previous years, and will occupy the wide roles for Parkinson’s men. Knott is enjoying a good season at Valley Parade, like Hanson scoring 7 goals in all competitions, and would surely like to help get one over on his current employees by netting on Saturday.
The last time Chelsea lost to a side in a lower division in the FA Cup was 2008, when we lost 1-0 away to then-Championship Barnsley, thanks to a Kayode Odejayi goal. That stat can be read one of two ways – we’re either sailing comfortably through, treading carefully over a northern banana skin that sits on Wembley Way, or we’re about due for a shock, and Bradford will deliver it. Either way, as is the case with the FA Cup, it should be a fascinating encounter on Saturday.