The FA Cup kicks off for Chelsea this Saturday with a third round tie against League One side Southend United. The Essex boys travel to Stamford Bridge as huge underdogs, but will be hoping that the magic of the competition combined with some sketchy Chelsea home form of late could swing the game in their favour.
The Blues ended 2008’s football with a disappointing draw against Fulham on the 28th December. Despite Chelsea battering the Cottagers throughout, defensive switch-offs eventually saw Fulham snatch a last-gasp draw, with Clint Dempsey scoring in injury-time to equalise. Luis Felipe Scolari was reportedly fuming and even remonstrated on the field of play at the final whistle with select members of his under-performing squad.
If he wants to make a real statement about his side, we could see some changes to the starting XI for the Southend game. However, while the forums on this fine site often speculate to that end prior to cup ties, it is often the case that the cup sides are near identical to those in the league; Kalouda and all! With January upon us and the transfer window now open, it may be a chance for some of the younger members of the squad – if they are picked – to put themselves on show with possible loan moves just around the corner. First-team opportunities for the likes of Scott Sinclair, Franco di Santo and Miroslav Stoch – who made his debut against Arsenal in the league a few months back – have been few and far between, and they may be tempted to try their luck at a lower league club in order to bag a few more minutes.
However, there could be a few places up for grabs on Saturday with some first-teamers on the sidelines. Centre-back and the image of a lobotomy patient Alex limped off against Fulham with a hamstring problem and he joins Florent Malouda on the injury list. The feeble Frenchman has a similar ailment. Michael Essien still lies dormant with his long-term knock while John Terry and Michael Ballack are suspended. Ricardo Carvalho should start alongside Branislav Ivanovic at centre-back having coming through most of the Fulham draw. Youngster Lee Sawyer – who spent some time on loan at Southend earlier this season – has been training with the first-team this week and may get a spot on the bench.
Meanwhile, Southend also boast a couple more ex-Blues in their squad ready for a trip back to the Bridge. Young midfielder Anthony “The Judge” Grant joined the Shrimpers permanently at the start of this season having spent January onwards on loan at the club. Although he only made one appearance for Chelsea – in a 3-1 win over Manchester United – he was seen as a player with great potential and could show it if he plays on Saturday. At the opposite end of the age scale is 180 year old Paul Furlong who is still doing the rounds. The veteran striker scored 13 goals between 1994-1996 for the Blues and left before the renaissance really got under way. What could have been eh Paul?
For further team news and informed chat on Southend (because quite frankly you’re not going to get it with this preview) visit the Live Match Forum where ‘The Original OldBlueLady’ has done me a huge favour by giving a detailed run-down of the likely Southend side for Saturday’s game.
As far as Chelsea are concerned, well, only a win will do really. Scolari is coming under some pressure from certain quarters of the Blues’ support and a cupset against Southend would really hammer another nail into a rapidly closing coffin. For those of us who have faith in our World Cup winning, experienced and world-wise gaffer, this game is not even registering on the cupset radar. For those who want him out, and fast, it’s a banana skin just waiting to be slipped on. January often kicks-off a bit of quick fix buying in the transfer market, and although Peter Kenyon has insisted the club won’t be partaking in the merry-go-round this year, whether our squad is strong enough or not could all depend on 90 minutes against League One Southend. As has been the case in recent weeks, win and we’re fine and dandy. Lose or draw, and we’re plunged into crisis. What a funny old world we live in!
We’ve got Manchester United and Liverpool approaching in the league, but it could be the FA Cup which shapes the rest of our season.
Prediction: Whenever an underdog visit’s the Bridge they always seem to score first. Then, while the radio commentators and the studio panels across the land rejoice and celebrate, we manage an equaliser and go on to win. Same again on Saturday I reckon. 3-1 win for Chelsea.