Chelsea’s FA Cup journey this season began against fourth division opposition who barely stayed in the Football League last season. To avoid it ending against the Premier League champions-elect at the penultimate hurdle, we’re going to need a serious dose of the Magic of the Cup™.
When City won just three of their first eight league games back in October, many had wondered if their standard-setting run of the past half-decade was at long last over. Turns out that they were just recalibrating themselves for how to best play football in a pandemic. Pep Guardiola, more than any other Premier League manager, figured out the right balance on and off the pitch, and that’s been paying dividends ever since. A record-breaking 21-match winning run (in all competitions) followed, part of a club-record 28-match unbeaten run. They’ve gone almost perfect in Europe (just one draw in the group stages) and remain on track for an unprecedented quadruple.
But we can be a fly in their ointment in two of those four trophy-quests, should we both make the final of the Champions League, and more immediately, in this FA Cup semifinal at Wembley.
Date / Time: Saturday, April 17, 2021, 17.30 BST; 12:30pm EDT; 10pm IST
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London, England
Referee: Mike Dean (on pitch); Peter Bankes (VAR)
Forecast: Almost springlike
On TV: BBC One (UK); none (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BBC iPlayer (UK); ESPN+ (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA) — We (WAGNH) have an affiliate link for ESPN+ if you’re in the US and would like to sign up for the best value in sports streaming (or, if you’re like me, sign up for the Disney-Hulu-ESPN+ bundle).
Chelsea team news: Chelsea have had a relatively stellar record in this condensed, record-setting season for injuries in the Premier League, but we will be missing two key players in this one, Mateo Kovačić and Andreas Christensen, who have been instrumental to Thomas Tuchel’s excellent start to his Chelsea tenure. While we have capable replacements — after all, Christensen was only pressed into service (and then performed well above expectations) because of an injury to Thiago Silva, and Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté both played very well midweek as well — the concern is of a quick turnaround from Tuesday night for that trio of a combined age of nearly 100.
Tuesday night’s second leg defeat to Porto was technically Tuchel’s second defeat in charge, though one that left us in a much better mood than the first, the 5-2 shocker against West Brom. But this game is undoubtedly the biggest challenge yet for the new head coach and his attempts to instill some consistent winning mentality into this still very young squad.
Manchester City team news: City will be without Sergio Agüero, just as they’ve been for much of the season, and considering that they’ve already confirmed his exit on a free transfer after the season, they hardly need him anymore. With five players in double digits in goals for the season — Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden, and Riyad Mahrez — they pose a threat for all corners of the pitch. And for good measure, they have far and away the best defensive record in league, too, eight (8!) goals better than Chelsea’s second best 31 conceded.
If we’re looking for a sign of hope, City did manage to lose to 10-man Leeds United last weekend, just their second defeat in any competition since late November, so they’re not invincible. And in a one-off elimination game, anything can happen.
So why not us?
Previously: We lost 3-1 to City earlier this season, but we did beat them 2-1 during Project Restart. The last time we played in the FA Cup, we also emerged triumphant, by a rather flattering 5-1 scoreline in fact. We did contest the 2018-19 League Cup final as well, the infamous Kepa v. Sarri match that we would go on to lose on penalties. Meanwhile, Tuchel’s yet to beat Guardiola in five tries.