Chelsea are winners of three straight heading into their opening FA Cup fixture against Derby County. Although the tournament is already into its third round, it's the first major set of matches as clubs from the top two tiers of English football enter the fray.
The Blues picked up a convincing 3-0 victory over Southampton on New Year's Day. It was the latest sign that Chelsea are rounding into form at the right time after a stretch in December where they let some points slip away due to some lackluster performances.
Derby are enjoying a solid, albeit unspectacular, season in the Championship. They currently sit in fourth place, seven points off the pace being set by Leicester. The Rams will be looking to bounce back after a midweek loss to Wigan.
Let's examine all of the important viewing information for the FA Cup clash, followed by a look at the top storyline and a match prediction.
What's your prediction for the FA Cup matchup?
Where: iPro Stadium in Derby, England
When: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 9:15 a.m. ET (2:15 p.m. GMT)
Watch: Fox Sports 1 and BT Sport 1
Live Stream: Fox Soccer 2Go
Match Odds (via Bovada)
Derby County: +600
Top Storyline: Can Derby provide a serious challenge to Chelsea?
One of the best aspects of the FA Cup is the upsets. Putting clubs from the lower divisions up against Premier League sides always delivers a couple of surprising results, and with Derby being one of the top clubs in the Championship, this matchup provides at least a little upset potential.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they apparently won't benefit from a weakened Chelsea lineup. The Blues passed along comments from manager Jose Mourinho, who said he will go with a strong squad instead of resting most of his key players, as top clubs tend to do in early Cup matches:
Mourinho: 'We are not going to give a break to some players because we want to win the game, and we don't want to play a second game.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) January 3, 2014
Obviously, that makes the challenge much tougher for Derby. But they still get the advantage of playing at home and have an in-form Chris Martin leading the attack. So Chelsea must take the challenge seriously, especially with Mourinho wanting to avoid a replay.
The other factor working against the Rams is the Blues' ability to play from behind. As OptaJoe points out, they lead the Premier League in securing points after finding themselves in a losing position at some point earlier in the match:
10 - Only Chelsea (14) have won more points from losing positions in the PL this season than Man Utd (10). Temperament.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 1, 2014
In other words, even if Derby are able to strike first and start getting an upset on their mind, Chelsea aren't a side that's going to fade under the pressure. They have proved they can fight from behind, which helps them avoid upsets.
So while Derby have enough talent and are playing well enough to hang with Chelsea for a while, eliminating the Blues is still hard to imagine. With the Premier League side going all out to win, they are likely going to put together an inspired showing.
The biggest key for Derby County is setting up the best defensive wall they can inside the first 15 minutes. Chelsea are going to come out flying seeking an early goal to eliminate any pressure. If the Rams survive that early pressure, things should begin to open up.
That said, Eden Hazard and Co. are coming off a very good performance against Southampton. Expect Chelsea to control the pace of the match throughout, which will allow them to cruise into the next round with a road triumph.
Chelsea 3, Derby County 1