The FA cup has been good to us over the last 6 years, and we could do with a bit of cup magic on Wednesday to lift the air of depression that currently exits for Chelsea supporters. It would not be a huge surprise to those of us that have witnessed our recent displays if we were to get knocked out by Middlesbrough at the Riverside. The direction that Benitez has taken the team in is such that there is a distinct apprehension as to whether a positive result can be gained in any of our fixtures at the moment. The increasingly direct approach to our play has not resulted in more goal scoring chances being created. It has if anything played into our opponent’s hands. The 3 creative players that this side has been built around, our main key to unlocking defences, are becoming marginalised in matches as the ball sales over their heads towards either Ba or Torres. Ba has been able to get some success from this approach, as his hold up play has meant he can get on the end of some of these balls and bring the likes of Mata in to play. Unfortunately our style of attack is not changed when Fernando Torres occupies the centre forward position. Long balls forward to him are in effect giving the ball to the opposition. The standard of the delivery has been frustrating to watch. Look no further than our defeat at Manchester City on Sunday for examples. On countless occasions David Luiz brought the ball out of defence, and unchallenged hit a wayward ball forward, either out of play, or into an area nowhere near Demba Ba, or any other Chelsea player for that matter. Don’t expect a change of tact from the manager either. As Jose Mourinho was quoted in 2007 when Benitez was at Liverpool; “I don’t think people can talk about Bolton playing long balls anymore, because Liverpool play more than them”.
When the ball is kept on the floor, the direction of movement tends to be sideways. Although we enjoyed a higher percentage of possession in the second half against Manchester City, very rarely was it in an area of danger for them, Increasingly Mata and the wider players either side of him had to drop deeper to get on the ball, and there were few penetrating passes. It is extremely frustrating to helplessly watch from the stands as Mata finds space behind the opposition’s midfield, but the ball is passed sideways, then hit forward to Ba.
An early goal would certainly help us at the Riverside. As matches progress without us finding the net we tend to become more laboured in our approach, and the direct balls increase. When we have scored early it has acted as a confidence boost to play in the fluid manor that we were more used to watching under Di Matteo.
Middlesbrough, by all accounts were poor at the weekend, losing at home to Milwall, the first win in 7 league matches for them. Middlesbrough are 7th in the Championship, 1 point outside the last play-off position, occupied by Brighton. They’ve also lost 5 times in 17 home fixtures. We won our last fixture against them away 5-0 in their relegation season of 08-09. This is not a fixture that can be underestimated though, especially given our current form. Curtis Main is on a hot streak up front for the Boro, after scoring 3 in 3. Marvin Emnes is also a very creative player who will most probably play just behind Main in a similar formation to our own. Josh McEachran, on loan at Middlesbrough from Chelsea is cup tied. He has been a feature in their starting line up under Tony Mowbray this season & played 90 minutes at the weekend.
We are of course on a great unbeaten run in the FA cup. Our last defeat was on penalties against Everton in 2011, but our last defeat in open play over 90 minutes was all the way back in 2008 away at Barnsley. If we can progress, our quarterfinal destination would be Old Trafford, where Manchester United await. Our last FA cup-tie there was the 2007 semi, and our last tie against Manchester United was that seasons final. As far as Middlesbrough are concerned, our last FA cup-tie with them was the 2003 3rd round, a 1-0 home win for us thanks to a Mario Stanic goal. I don’t think I need to remind you of our last FA cup meeting before that do I?
Don’t you just love the FA Cup?
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