Last December, Chelsea fell rather unceremoniously at this stage of the League Cup away to Sunderland. The year before, we conspired to play 180 minutes of our worst football against eventual winners Swansea City in the semifinals. The year before that, we lost to eventual champions Liverpool in the quarterfinals, while a couple years prior, it were Blackburn Rovers who ousted the Blues on penalties at the same stage. In the year between, we managed to give up early in the third round. And so on.
Basically, the League Cup has not made for happy hunting grounds, despite highly favorable draws generally leading to eminently winnable match-ups. This year, once again, we're easily the "on-paper" favorites of the eight teams remaining. All we have to do is win two single-elimination games and one two-legged semifinal against the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Newcastle, and a few lower division teams.
Surely, we can't fail again?
Date / Time: Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST (next day)
Venue: iPro Stadium (a.k.a. Pride Park), Derby, England
Referee: Jonathan Moss -- this will be Moss's seventh Chelsea game (3-1-2 in our previous six). We last saw him in our 6-3 win away to Everton. Hopefully he's brushed up on the rules regarding goalkeepers handling the ball outside the area.
Forecast: A fairly pleasant winter's day, possibly with a few sprinkles at night; and not the sweet kind.
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); beIN Sports (USA); Ten Sports / HD (India); elsewhere
Online: Sky Go (UK); beIN Sports Connect (USA)
Derby County Team News: The opening paragraphs may have undersold Derby just a little bit as Steve McClaren's side have been one of the Championship's best all season. Even after back-to-back away losses, they're just one point behind the leaders in third. Before the weekend's Patrick Bamford-inspired 2-0 win for Middlesbrough, this game would've in fact featured the Premier League leaders against the Championship leaders.
Center back Ryan Shotton is suspended and fellow defender Zak Whitbread is injured; everybody else should be available for selection. With Derby vying for automatic promotion to the Premier League, they may opt to rest a few key players. However, we felt similarly ahead of last season's FA Cup visit to the same ground and McClaren didn't flinch. Either way, and with just one loss at home all season, Derby will be no pushovers.
Chelsea Team News: Thibaut Courtois is out with a groin injury. Gary Cahill is set to be rested. Ramires and Nathan Ake remain in the fitness mystery zone.
Thanks to quirky scheduling and TV rights shenanigans, we don't play again until Monday. Busy holiday period or not, that might be just enough recovery time to give many of the first team regulars a run-out in this one, too. The only two players on whom I'd be willing to bet to play are Petr Cech and Kurt Zouma. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess.
Previously: Including last year's 2-0 FA Cup third round win, Chelsea have not lost to Derby since 1999. Though we've only played the Squiggly Rams eight times since.