Chelsea have last failed to make it past the third round of the FA Cup exactly 20 years ago, falling at home to Manchester United by a rather curious 5-3 scoreline — though not nearly as curious as the match itself, which saw Chelsea almost storm back from a five-goal deficit in the final quarter of an hour.
The defeat signaled the beginning of the end of Ruud Gullit as player-manager however, with Chelsea winning just two of the next nine games in all competitions.
The stakes are probably not as high for Conte at this point, but the mood around the club could use a bit of improving and this should be an easy opportunity to do so.
But first, how about scoring just a goal? Start small. It doesn’t even have to be a backheeled one, like one of the four that Zola scored in a replay exactly like this one 16 years ago.
Date / Time: Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Graham Scott — Scott’s the fourth newest yet also third oldest ‘Select Group’ (i.e. Premier League) referee. The 49-year-old replaced the retiring Chris Foy a couple years ago. He’s refereed a Chelsea match exactly once in his career, our 2:1 win over Bolton in the third round of the League Cup back in 2014, a competition we’d go on to win that season.
Forecast: Cold, windy, rainy. Going to need lots of goals to thaw the mood.
On TV: BBC One (UK); Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BBC iPlayer (UK); Fox Soccer Match Pass (USA); Sony LIV (India)
Chelsea team news: Cesc Fàbregas and Gary Cahill are dealing with (minor) hamstring injuries while Ross Barkley turns out to be ineligible since he wasn’t registered in time for the original match ten days ago (missing the deadline on the Friday prior by less than five hours).
The Blues are on a remarkable, record-breaking run of three straight 0-0 draws, accomplishing this dubious distinction for the first time in the club’s 112-year history. With everyone firing blanks, the task of breaking out of slump falls to Michy Batshuayi today, in what could be his last appearance for the club this season before heading out on loan (and being replaced by ... Andy Carroll?).
Conte also confirmed a start for young Ethan Ampadu (but not for Callum Hudson-Odoi) as wholesale rotation is expected from last Saturday’s disappointing result against Leicester City and ahead of this Saturday’s trip to Brighton.
Norwich City team news: Since holding Chelsea to a draw, the Canaries continued their good form over the weekend by beating promotion-chasing Bristol City 1-0 away from home. They are now unbeaten in their last five in all competitions, conceding just 1 goal. With nothing to lose at the Bridge, Norwich could be a tougher nut to crack than we’d like.
Previously: Zola’s magical backheel goal came against Norwich in the FA Cup third round replay back in 2002 (following an equally listless 0-0 at Carrow Road). Frank Lampard, guest-coaching once again as part his studies for his coaching badges, and three Chelsea U18 players attempted to recreate it last week on the training ground.