It's not often that Chelsea get to play a team in England whom we've never faced before, but such is the case in Sunday's FA Cup fourth round tie at Stadium:mk. We've been to that venue a couple times, for first-team and U21 preseason matches*, but this will be the first time that we get to play the franchise so unilaterally derided in most English footballing circles. Of course we've played Wimbledon many times before their move to Milton Keynes, but with that history officially returned to the newly formed AFC Wimbledon, MK stand on their own.
* That U21 match in August featured what basically would be a true Chelsea B team, if we could have B teams. Boga, Musonda, Chalobah, Piazon, Swift, Abraham, Ake, and others beat the hosts 2-1.
Since their acrimonious move to the "new town", the Dons have resided mostly in League One (i.e. the third tier), finally gaining promotion to the Championship at the end of last season. Pictured above are three of chief architects of that promotion push, all three of whom have now gone (Will Grigg to Wigan, Dele Alli to Spurs, Lewis Baker back to Chelsea and then off to Vitesse). A fourth key man, Benik Afobe, has changed shirts twice since then even, returning to Wolves for the first half of this season before becoming Bournemouth's club-record signing in January. Thus depleted, it's no suprise that MK are struggling this season, currently sitting just two spots and one point above the relegation zone.
But this is the FA Cup and while the weekend so far has largely lacked any of the "magic" normally associated with one-off knockout competitions, you never know when it's going to rear its unwelcome head. Chelsea faltered at this exact stage last season, suffering the 4-2 shock home defeat to Bradford City, while MK beat Manchester United on this very ground 4-0 (!!) in last year's League Cup.
Anything can happen.
Date / Time: Sunday, January 31, 2016, 16:00 GMT; 11am EST; 9:30pm IST
Venue: Stadium:mk, Milton Keynes, England
Referee: Jonathan Moss -- unfortunately, I associate Mr. Moss with the horrendously refereed game against West Ham United, which included him sending Jose Mourinho to the stands after a half-time "confrontation" that also resulted in a one-match stadium ban. Feels like yesterday. Feels like a lifetime ago.
Forecast: Rainy morning, cool afternoon
On TV: BBC One (UK); Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes (USA); Sony Six (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BBC (UK); Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go (USA); Chelsea TV (radio, int'l)
MK Dons team news: Liverpool lad Karl Robinson has been the manager for almost 6 years, which makes him the third (third!) longest serving boss in the Football/Premier League behind Arsene Wenger and Exeter's Paul Tisdale. At the time of his appointment, Robinson, a few months shy of his 30th birthday, was the youngest manager in the top four divisions. He's never faced such bad results before however, and he knows the task at hand in the league is a tough one. The Dons are the minnows of the division, and don't even have proper training facilites at the moment!
All of which of course means that they've got absolutely nothing to lose on Sunday against Chelsea, and that's always a potentially dangerous situation. They might even score a few goals, which have been sorely missing from their game. With just 23 goals in 28 matches, MK are the lowest scoring side in the Championship.
Robinson will be without veteran midfielder Carl Baker and former England international Matthew Upson (last seen scoring the lone allowed goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Top scorer Josh Murphy, on loan from Norwich City (albeit with just 4 goals) may be a familiar name to followers of the Chelsea youth teams (Murphy scored Norwich's winning goal in the second leg of 2013 FA Youth Cup final), as should Samir Carruthers, who played against Josh McEachran & Co in the final of the 2010 FA Youth Cup and then avenged that loss three years later in the final of the last ever NextGen Series.
Chelsea team news: Hiddink's preference to use strong lineups is likely to continue, though we may be in trouble at striker, considering that both Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao are injured and Diego Costa may still be feeling the effects of his latest knock picked up against Arsenal. New boys Alexandre Pato and Matt Miazga are not expected (or even be allowed) to take part.
Last Sunday's massive win over the Gunners has put Hiddink's unbeaten record into a much nicer perspective. Three wins and four draws since his appointment means that still the only match he's ever lost as Chelsea manager in two stints and 29 games is the 1-0 reverse against a Luka Modric-led Spurs in 2009.
Previously: Back in 2007, in the first ever match held at Stadium mk, Chelsea reserves were beaten 4-3 in a preseason friendly. Twenty one players took part from the Blues, mostly youngsters and prospects, none of whom remain with the club unfortunately. There are some real trivia answers among those names, but they also included the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Patrick van Aanholt, future Puskas Award-winner Miroslav Stoch, and the current captain of the Philippines national football team, Phil Younghusband!