Oh, how much difference two years make! Not 24 months ago, these same two sides faced each other on the pitch of New Wembley with a 1-0 result for the Good Guys securing an historic Double.
Since then, both clubs have been on a bit of a slide...although not nearly of the same magnitude. Two administrations, six managers, and many new players later, Pompey find themselves in the lower half of the Championship, still (or again) struggling financially and barely clinging onto a modicum of hope that the future will be brighter.
Chelsea's slide has certainly been less drastic although nonetheless disappointing for the fans. One could argue that The Double (and the Premier League goalscoring record) were the culmination, the final hurrah of the "Old Guard". The rather flattering second place finish and a haul of zero trophies that followed highlighted the need for a fresh new approach, the need to essentially rebuild the team from scratch.
Of course, we're Chelsea and we must continue to win trophies to avoid creating unrest in the unwashed masses. The FA Cup may represent our best chance to do that this season.
The management team (and I say team, because FA Cup Hero Roberto di Matteo was sent to address the media in the pre-game press conference) has claimed that since we're taking this competition more seriously than usual (even in the early round) that we might see a strong Chelsea side out there on Sunday. Injuries and other commitments however may derail that notion. John Terry is carrying a knock, while Branislav Ivanovic is still stricken with whatever injury he picked up over the festive period so we could definitely see some first team action for many younger players in defense.
Florent Malouda should be back from "sickness" (which has gone suspiciously unmentioned until now), but both of our Ivorians will have already jetted off to the Africa Cup of Nations. John Obi Mikel is still injured and probably won't be back until later in January (same goes for Michael Essien). Maybe if our position in the league were not so precarious, we would see some of the Youth squad step up for this game...but I'm guessing we'll just put some of the first-choice usual suspects out there instead (especially since, for a change, we actually have almost a whole week before the next fixture).
Despite their struggles, Portsmouth do carry a positive goal difference and certainly won't be making it easy on us. Their customary combination of younger talent and Premier League castoffs will be looking to pull off the upset and continue the club's recent successes in this competition. Ex-Blue Tal Ben Haim (a.k.a. our Gary Cahill before we had Gary Cahill) and ex-Gunner Nwankwo Kanu are still kicking about (see also: Aaron Mokoena, Hayden Mullins, Hermann Hreidarsson), although the players we should be more worried about are the young up-n-coming ones, like the Hungarian Marko Futács (and his strong right foot) who is on loan from Werder Bremen and has hit the back of the net in each of the last two games.
Still, I expect us to continue our excellent home record v. lower league opposition in the Roman Era (16 wins, 2 replay wins after draws, and 1 loss - Barnsley away in '08) and I would certainly enjoy a repeat of the 7-0 drubbing from last year of Championship side Ipswich...but any positive result would go a long way as we start to put the struggles of the holiday period past us.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Turnbull - Bertrand, Hutchinson, Sideshow, Phantom of the Opera - Romeu, Lampard, Josh-
inOUT-of-basket - Malouda, Lukaku, Anelka(*sadface*) Sturridge
Join us here tomorrow at 10am EST / 7am PST (after the Manc derby) for all the GameThread festivities.