There was an air of inevitability about the FA Cup draw and few Chelsea fans were surprised when the Blues were drawn against the strongest team in the competition, Manchester City.
Having cruised past Scunthorpe and Milton Keynes Dons in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, the cup was providing Guus Hiddink’s men with a welcome respite from the high-pressure environment of the Premier League.
Even though Chelsea’s recent league form has been infinitely better than it was in the first half of the season, and the Blues are still competing on three fronts, there is little doubt that the cup represents the club’s best chance of silverware this campaign.
But the draw wasn’t kind to us, pitting Chelsea against the team that pulled them apart in a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the Premier League season. You have to go back as far as 1915 to remember the last time Chelsea beat Man City in English football’s oldest cup competition, and the Blues’ most recent cup clashes with City don’t hold many positive omens for this season’s meeting.
Chelsea slipped to a 2-0 fifth round defeat at Etihad Stadium in February 2014, with Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri scoring either side of half-time to dump Jose Mourinho’s side out of the competition.
Less than a year prior to that defeat, City were Chelsea’s cup masters in the 2013 semi-final at Wembley, where 85,000 fans saw Nasri and Sergio Aguero give the Sky Blues a lead that proved unassailable, despite Demba Ba’s consolation goal for Chelsea.
Regardless of City’s superior cup pedigree in games against Chelsea, and their strong position in the Premier League compared to the Blues, the latest FA Cup betting has both City and Chelsea priced at 11/2 to win the competition as of 5th February, while Arsenal (7/2) and Manchester United (9/2) are both shorter odds to lift the trophy.
There is undoubtedly strong rationale for the odds to be matched in this way. Chelsea are, after all, enjoying a slow resurgence under Hiddink and the cup tie might just fall at an ideal time to face Manchester City – if there can be such a thing.
There may be some unrest in the ranks at City following manager Manuel Pellegrini’s announcement that he won’t be in charge of the team after this season. Pellegrini will be replaced by Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola at the end of this campaign, and goalkeeper Joe Hart has already spoken out about how much the current squad love having the Chilean in charge.
At the time of writing, City hadn’t lost a game since their trip to Everton on January 6th, but they are by no means infallible. The Toffees are one of four Premier League teams against whom City have come unstuck on their travels this season – they slipped up away at Tottenham, Stoke, and Arsenal before going down at Goodison Park.
Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for City in recent seasons. Though they managed a 1-1 draw in West London last season, Chelsea were 2-1 winners in the previous season, and City suffered defeat twice at Stamford Bridge in 2011.
A 4pm Sunday kick-off for this season’s fifth round tie at Stamford Bridge should provide the ideal setting for a great cup match, and there’s absolutely no reason why Hiddink’s Chelsea shouldn’t secure their passage to the quarter-finals by beating Manchester City.