Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the FA Cup sixth round tomorrow, with manager Rafael Benitez calling on his team to work as a unit in order to secure a place in the semi-finals of a competition we’ve grown to love in recent years.
The Blues have lifted the trophy seven times in our history, with four of those triumphs coming since the final returned to Wembley in 2007, most recently last season, when goals from Ramires and Didier Drogba helped us to a 2-1 win over Liverpool.
While our opponents suffered Champions League elimination earlier this week against Real Madrid, they have displayed an impressive level of consistency in the Premier League, opening up a 12-point lead over nearest challengers Manchester City, and Benitez is under no illusions as to the size of the task.
‘It will be a tough game against a good team who are top of the table,’ he said. ‘It’s an away game for us, so we know it will be difficult but we are confident we can go through.
‘If you analyse the squad they have, they have four strikers and two players in each position that could play for any team. They have a strong squad and even when they make changes they keep the quality.
‘In attack, they have Chicharito, [Danny] Welbeck, [Wayne] Rooney and [Robin] Van Persie, and they can play any of them.
‘If you look at the players they have in wide areas and in the middle, especially if they are winning, in the last 20 minutes they still have players like [Ryan] Giggs and [Paul] Scholes to bring on.’
With the FA Cup and Europa League now our only realistic hopes of securing silverware this season, what has always been a standout fixture has now taken on even greater significance.
The Blues can take heart from our display against the league leaders back in November when we were unfortunate to lose 3-2 after being reduced to nine men, and Benitez, who won 4-1 on his last visit to Old Trafford as manager of Liverpool, is confident his side can make it a week to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
‘It’s always a difficult game,’ explained the Spaniard. ‘They have a very good team, they are experienced and they are very competitive
‘Playing against a top side like United you know that anything can happen, you can win or lose.
‘We have had some very good games, and some not so good, but we have quality and if we work together we can get a result. United are very strong, but we are a top side.’
Benitez will be able to freshen the side up having rested the likes of Ramires, Victor Moses and Ashley Cole in Romania, something which he believes could make a big difference.
‘It’s an important competition which Chelsea have done very well in, so hopefully we can carry on,’ said the Spaniard.
‘The good thing is that we have another game so soon after a defeat, hopefully we can do better and win, and we will have five or six players with fresh legs.’