After seeing United and Arsenal both crash out of Europe, the significance of winning the FA Cup has only intensified. The FA Cup, Premier League and League Cup will be the trophies shared amongst the countries elite this year and with a strong possibility that Chelsea can steal two of these, the season could still end in considerable triumph.
Chelsea have suffered a number of torturous months this season with the African Cup of Nations stealing two of their key assets and since the turn of the year an injury-laden defence has seen the blues struggle to contain opposition on their travels. Player revelations and scandals have also created a traumatic first year in charge for manager Carlo Ancelotti, although an FA Cup final will soften the blows. After last week’s triumph over fellow contenders Manchester United, the proposition of winning the league has become ever closer.
Ancelotti and the fans do, however, know that victory did not guarantee them the title but it firmly puts them in the driving seat. Chelsea still have away travels to both Anfield and White Hart Lane, and while a decent record in London is a slight assurance, wayward performances in Merseyside in recent seasons will no doubt provide food for thought. Last season the reds completed the double over Chelsea – a Xabi Alonso goal at Stamford Bridge and a Fernando Torres injury-time double at Anfield made the difference. Thus the League title race is still very much a two-horse race with Arsenal an outside bet after their recent draw with Birmingham.
This week Chelsea face an Aston Villa side they recently beat with ease in a 7-1 thumping. Aston Villa were unable to contain the Blues that day as their tactics contradicted that of Ancelotti’s. Villa usually opt for wide men and they looked to spread the ball as much as possible, trying to get the likes of Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and James Milner involved. However, Chelsea’s quick counter-attacking philosophy and use of the ball through the heart of the opposition caught Villa short in numbers defensively. Able to overpower their opposition in the midfield department, Chelsea’s duo in the free role could comfortably pick their pass to the potent front men. Didier Drogba was omitted from the squad that day and, unafraid to spark controversy, the Blues top scorer was also left out against Manchester United. It is likely his winner has done enough to warrant a starting position this weekend.
Consistency may be Chelsea’s main stumbling block this weekend, after a 7-1 victory it is imperative that the player’s mindset is in the right place. Martin O’Neill will try to make sure history does not repeat itself this time around. With a number of upsets already in the domestic tournament this tie does seem viable as a possible turn of the titans. However, recent good form will contradict this statement, with Chelsea seeing off a number of high profile teams in recent weeks. The key men among this melee of talent have been the two magicians in the attacking sector of the midfield. Of those who feed off target man Nicolas Anelka, Joe Cole and Deco have been in sublime form. The Portuguese maestro has dictated recent displays and his influence against Aston Villa had a devastating effect, regularly picking out the likes of Florent Malouda and Anelka. Joe Cole’s dedicated work ethic and desire to make England’s World Cup squad has also seen him begin to triumph in this Chelsea line-up – the tricky midfielder has been out of favour since fighting back from injury. However, the ex- Hammer is a determined professional and his attitude has served him well throughout his illustrious career.
Obviously the attention will be on goal-getters Drogba, Anelka, Frank Lampard and Malouda, but Cole’s ability on the ball and his movement off it, may be the key to once again defeating a Villa side that will no doubt be disheartened by their recent performances. The small squad are still battling fatigue but after seeing Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton pick up points towards the climax of the season, they may see the FA Cup as their last chance of sealing a successful season.
Watch all Chelsea matches live on your computer – click here