Chelsea will face Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday for the second time in 15 days. The stakes are just as high this time, although now, they are looking to advance in their favourite cup competition rather than close the gap at the top of the Premier League.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side were outplayed by the Blues in the league fixture just over a week ago. Branislav Ivanovic’s first-half goal was enough to end the Citizens’ 100 percent home record as Jose Mourinho’s men stopped them from scoring at the Etihad for the first time this season.
His comments after the game, as reported on the official Chelsea website, underline how pleased he was with their performance:
We love the big games. When you love it maybe you feel extra-motivated. The best thing for our evolution is to play matches under pressure, to be close to the leaders, and today we came here and played against the leaders and we deserved it.
We defended very well and we very compact. The victory was only possible because Petr [Cech] made a couple of fantastic saves, it was only possible because the defensive players played so well, it was only possible because the midfield players worked so hard, and it was only possible because the attacking players were giving a great contribution.
The FA Cup tie will not be viewed any differently by Mourinho, who has great affection for the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. However, he will face different challenges as key players could miss the clash.
Gary Cahill’s form for Chelsea has been outstanding so far, but an injury sustained against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday could rule him out of Saturday’s game, according to Ian Parkes of The Independent.
John Terry was absent from the squad at the Hawthorns as he continued his precautionary rest, and Mourinho will doubtless want his captain back for the cup tie.
David Luiz was deployed in the midfield in the league fixture against City with great effect, but with Cahill likely to miss out, he could return to his natural position at centre-half.
Ivanovic should be given the chance to continue his goalscoring form from right-back, while Ashley Cole’s absence looks set to continue as Cesar Azpilicueta has made the left-back spot his own.
John Obi Mikel should take Luiz’s place in the holding midfield role with Nemanja Matic and Ramires on either side of him. The 4-3-3 formation was key to suppressing City’s talented attacking midfielders in their last meeting, and there is no reason to change it for this match.
Eden Hazard and Willian have cemented their positions as the first-choice wide men in the attack, and the stats from their performance at the Etihad show why. According to WhoScored.com, Willian made seven key passes and three accurate crosses during the corresponding fixture, while Hazard won four fouls and completed 11 dribbles.
Fernando Torres returned from injury at the Hawthorns on Tuesday and could start against City to give Samuel Eto’o a rest. The Cameroonian veteran has started six consecutive matches, and although his efficiency at finding space to shoot would be handy for this tie, he will be better used as a second-half substitute if the Blues are struggling to score.
Mirror Football’s Martin Lipton has suggested that Mourinho will field a weakened team for this fixture as he focuses on the Premier League title race. However, the Special One told BBC Sport in January that "Even for the smallest clubs, where it is difficult to reach a final, the FA Cup has a special meaning."
Expect the little horse to attempt some spectacular jumps on Saturday.