Chelsea swing from one cup competition to the other, as we go from an early round FA Cup tie to a late-round League Cup semifinal (first leg), and facing midtable opposition from the second division in both instances.
But as we saw on Saturday, that doesn’t mean we can get away with putting in just the bare minimum of effort. And unlike on Saturday, we likely won’t need just 45 minutes of effort to sweep aside the challengers.
Middlesbrough and Preston may be separated by just one point in the middle reaches of the Championship, but Boro have both a better attack and a better defense. They have as many wins in the last three weeks as Preston have had in the last three months, and they also gave Aston Villa a strong challenge over the weekend before succumbing to a late-late winner.
This is (still, but for the very last time) a two-legged semifinal for some random reason, so we do have some wiggle room if we fail to show up. But while we cannot win the tie in the first leg, we can certainly lose it.
Date / Time: Tuesday, January 9, 2023, 20.00 GMT; 3pm EST; 1:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Referee: Sam Barrott (on pitch); no VAR because Boro’s stadium doesn’t have the necessary equipment
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); none (USA); none (India); SuperSport Premier League (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: Sky Go (UK); ESPN+ (USA); FanCode (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Middlesbrough team news: Under the guidance of head coach Michael Carrick, Middlesbrough finished fourth last season, losing their bid for promotion in the playoff semifinals, but their current campaign has so far failed to hit similar heights. They started slow (just 2 points from their first 7 games!), then rattled off six straight wins, and now have been trading wins and losses for the past three months. All of that adds up to little more than midtable mediocrity, but also shows that they do have the capacity, and the quality, to pull off an upset.
Summer signing, out of the Swiss first division, Emmanuel Latte Lath (great name!) smoothly leads the team in goals with just seven in all competitions, but seven players have at least five goals (compare to just three at Chelsea) and they’ve been averaging nearly three goals in this competition — albeit against largely lower-league opposition in what’s been a very kind draw for them at every step.
Their main challenge is a rather familiar one.
“Consistency’s the magic ingredient. We’ve shown what we’re capable of in little spells. Put all that together and it brings success in the end. The pleasing thing is we know what’s in the tank, what we can do, so that’s really encouraging. This is a whole new challenge but we’ve got reason to go into the game incredibly positive.”
-Michael Carrick; source: Middlesbrough FC
Their other main challenge is rather familiar as well, with about a dozen first-team players out injured or unavailable, including first-choice goalkeeper Seny Dieng, who’s backing up Édouard Mendy at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. At the same time, winger Sam Silvera is representing Australia at the Asia Cup, while key players such as Paddy McNair, Marcus Forss, and Matt Crooks are among those dealing with various injuries. Leading goal contributor Sam Greenwood is ineligible (as he played for Leeds United in the second round before switching teams on deadline day) as is new signing Finn Azaz from Aston Villa (who spent the first half of the season on loan at Plymouth Argyle).
Chelsea team news: Like our Championship dopplegangers, we’ve been troubled by inconsistencies and injuries all season, though we have won three in a row in all competitions, matching our longest winning streak of the season!
Unfortunately, we’re on a zero-game winning streak with injuries. Ben Chilwell, Benoît Badiashile, and Carney Chukwuemeka are close but not quite there yet, while we’re hoping that Christopher Nkunku does indeed remain close while his supposedly minor hip problem is treated. Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Roméo Lavia, Robert Sánchez, Lesley Ugochukwu, and Trevoh Chalobah are not close.
Nicolas Jackson’s now off at the Africa Cup of Nations, joining the aforementioned Dieng with Senegal, while Andrey Santos is back in Brazil, also on international duty (though we’ve yet to decide whether to maintain his eligibility for another loan this season in any case). Also, just as over the weekend, Ian Maatsen is unlikely to play even if named on the bench as he looks set to finalize a move to Borussia Dortmund.
Previously: We’ve played Middlesbrough just three times in the last ten years, but we here at the Riverside two years ago, winning 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech scored on that day. Thiago Silva is the only Chelsea player who played that day to still be with us at the moment.