Chelsea's path to redemption for a supremely disappointing season will reach a major crossroads (or a t-junction) at Wembley on Saturday. The Blues have a chance to win major silverware for the first time in two years, but Liverpool are standing between Roberto di Matteo's men and the FA Cup. The Reds have already won the league cup this season, and Chelsea will be hoping that no cup double is forthcoming.
It honestly feels a little strange that the Blues aren't actually defending their trophy. We've been so used to them winning the thing recently - Chelsea brought the cup home in 2007, 2009 and 2010 - that it seems super weird that the current holders are Manchester City. The FA Cup is supposed to be ours. So let's reclaim it.
Date/Time: Saturday, May 5th, 5:15 PM BST (12:15 PM EDT).
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London.
TV: ITV 1 (UK), Fox Soccer Channel (USA).
Chelsea have had to weather a defensive crisis of late, and according to Roberto di Matteo we're not going to be relieved before the final:
[David Luiz and Gary Cahill] are progressing, getting better but won't be available for the final tomorrow. We have to see how it goes and hopefully next week they might be able to start training with the team. These are the only two players and everybody else is available.
That's pretty unfortunate, because it means that we're probably going to see Branislav Ivanovic at centre back again. It sure would be nice to have our second and third choice centre backs at some point before the Champions League final in Munich. Which we're totally going to, by the way. That hasn't really sunk in yet.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are missing the excellent Lucas Leiva and the not really very excellent Charlie Adam thanks to long-term injuries. Kenny Dalglish has no new injuries to worry about, however.
Di Matteo has played a 4-2-3-1 in all of his Chelsea matches save against Barcelona, and I'd expect him to continue that habit on Saturday. Liverpool, meanwhile, will play the following lineup, according to the Guardian:
Liverpool starting lineup (4-4-2): Pepe Reina; Jose Enrique, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson; Stewart Downing, Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey, Jordan Henderson; Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll.
For me that's actually a 4-3-3 with Downing pushed up and Henderson central, because otherwise that would be pretty pants on head crazy, and while I don't think Dalglish is a particularly clever manager it would take a rather spectacular error of judgement to play a midfield band of Downing, Gerrard, Shelvey and Henderson.
The obvious selection dilemma as far as Chelsea are concerned is the choice between Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres, who's in much better form at the moment than he has been at any other point in his Chelsea career. I'm leaning towards including Drogba, who's better rested and has scored in more important games this season - Valencia, Napoli, Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona have all felt the Ivorian's wrath. I'm happy for Torres, but I'm not putting my faith in him just yet.
Elsewhere, I'm really tempted to argue for Ramires at right back and Daniel Sturridge on the right wing. This would have the advantage of removing Jose Bosingwa from the equation as well as putting in a goalscorer to pin Jose Enrique deeper in the Liverpool half. The problem, of course, is that Ramires is not a right back and Sturridge is out of form, and this sort of improvisation during a cup final doesn't really seem like di Matteo's style.
Given all of that, I suspect we'll see the standard first choice lineup minus David Luiz and with Bosingwa at right back, like so:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa; John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard; Salomon Kalou, Juan Mata, Ramires; Didier Drogba.
It's been pretty clear for a month now that the Blues are putting all of their eggs in the cup basket, and although the FA Cup is obviously a lower priority than the Champions League Chelsea will be desperate to win a trophy. The big guns have been rested, as have Liverpool's. This should be good...