Back to the business of football, then? Sounds like a welcome distraction if you ask me. More, after the jump:
In our last foray into the FA Cup, we managed to slide past QPR courtesy of a Juan Mata penalty. Yes, it took a stroke of luck and good fortune to secure safe passage into this current round- with a fixture against a resurgent Birmingham squad. Under the stewardship of ex-Newcastle imperio Chris Hughton, City's last loss came on December 19th. Since then, they've pieced together an impressive eight wins and five draws, including FA Cup victories against Sheffield United and Wolves. Altogether, good stuff from the midlands these days. On to the specifics:
Who: Birmingham City F.C. (est. 1875)
What: FA Cup, Fourth Round
When: 18 February, 12:30pm local (6:30am EST)
Where: Stamford Bridge (42,449)
How: Fox Soccer Plus (DirecTV 621, Dish 407)
Why: Because it would be nice to remember what it feels like to win. Seeing as how wins are more of a commodity than a certainty these days, it'd be nice to actually summit the mountain and walk away with a convincing performance that sees us through towards our quest to win the Cup once again. Plus, the last time we won was in this very competition. So, you know, symmetry and such.
Them: Birmingham will be rendered slightly mute without the services of Nikola Zigic and Marlon King- the latter with a groin complaint and the former with a knee injury. Guirane N'Daw will also miss out with a hamstring knock. Birmingham have won five of their last six FA Cup matches away from home, including their last three trips outside the midlands. Having already dispensed of Wolves, their sights are firmly set on eliminating us from the competition- and continuing their quest for silverware. You'll recall, this is the same Birmingham side that improbably ran the table last year and came out victorious in the Carling Cup. So, they're no strangers to winning trephines in recent years, and are peaking at the right time of the campaign. Their undefeated streak sits comfortably at 13 matches, and a victory tomorrow will ensure that Birmingham qualify for the final-eight of the FA Cup for the third year running.
Us: Ugh. It's not looking particularly appealing at the moment. England's Once Brave, Twice Removed will not be risked for this one- which makes sense with a Champions League trip to Naples on the cards for Tuesday. Meanwhile, our Ivorians will be rested following their travails in the ACON, and Ashely Cole faces a late fitness test to determine his chances. But, news suggests that Ramires is fit for inclusion, while John Obi Mikel has returned to full fitness and is ready for a start if needed. Based on the necessity for a win, and our looming CL tie, I'm confused as to how Andre will sort the bodies out on this one. He could opt to stack his deck and go for a strong squad to triumph, but risk injuries and fatigue before the Naples draw. So here's what I'm thinking- and bear with me if you disagree but I sense this is very possible:
I'm usually a firm proponent of the 4-2-3-1 formation, but this one gives us a bit more breadth across the pitch, and allows for an extra midfielder to play deeper to generate attacks from the half-way line. I could be totally wrong with this, and yeah, I could be really regretting the decision to throw Jose Bosingwa in the mix. But who really knows what AVB will do?
Join us tomorrow for a Rant and such. Here's hoping for any flavor of a win- to be honest I don't care how it comes about. I just want to see an inspired performance that suggests the message was received during the recent events of the past five days. No matter what your stance is on Andre, his reign, the players, or our current form, we can all agree that a win would put us in a better frame of mind. Lets have it then, boys.