Having worked with Steve McClaren at one of his former clubs, Mark Schwarzer is well placed to offer an insight into how the manager of today’s opponents, Derby County, will be preparing his side in an attempt to cause an FA Cup upset.
Jose Mourinho takes the Blues to the iPro Stadium for a third round clash in football’s oldest cup competition this afternoon, as Chelsea look to preserve our impressive recent run of form against a team we haven’t played since 2008.
Despite a New Year’s Day home defeat against Wigan Athletic, the Rams go into the game in good shape, currently fourth in the Championship table and having scored more goals than any other team in the division, with 48.
‘It will probably be the biggest crowd they’ve had for quite some time,’ Schwarzer tells the official Chelsea website. ‘From when I started in England, Derby were up and down a little bit and then they had a stint in the Premier League.
‘They’ve got some very talented young players in the squad and they’ve been playing some good football recently. Their manager is still relatively new there but they’re doing well at the moment and they’re going to be a very tough opponent for us.’
There is little doubt McClaren has had a positive impact at Derby since replacing Nigel Clough earlier this season, with the former England manager inspiring a sequence of results which saw them move into second place prior to Wednesday’s setback.
Schwarzer was part of McClaren’s Middlesbrough side from 2001 to 2006, and was impressed with his coaching abilities.
‘I don’t think he’ll change too much in terms of the way they prepare for the game, they’re the home side and he’ll be working as hard as he always does with the players,’ he says.
‘He’s at his best when he’s out on the training pitch and coaching. That’s probably his forte, the fact that he’s not only a manager that can manage but he can also coach very well too. I’m sure they’ll be analysing us and looking at the way we play, but they will also know they have nothing to lose and their players will be relishing playing against Chelsea.
‘He always wants to play football. He was never content with just knocking the ball long and hoping for the best, he always sets his sides up to get the ball down and play. He’s always had creative players in his side and a great work ethic.’
During his time at the Riverside Stadium, McClaren led Middlesbrough to the first major trophy in their history and a European final, an enjoyable period for Schwarzer.
‘Of course, for Middlesbrough, the League Cup was the first and only major trophy they’d won in 128 years,’ he explains.
‘It was a successful period; we spent the entire time I was there, apart from one season, in the Premier League, and people can look back fondly with hindsight and realise just how good those times were.’
While the Blues have enjoyed great success in the FA Cup in recent times, winning the trophy four times since 2007, for Schwarzer it’s been a more frustrating story. He was a beaten semi-finalist twice, in 2002 and 2006, and has fallen at the quarter-final hurdle on a number of occasions.
It remains to be seen whether Jose Mourinho will involve him in this season’s FA Cup campaign but somewhat understandably, the keeper remains as hungry as ever to taste success in the competition.
‘It would be huge, a dream come true for anyone,’ says the 41-year-old. ‘As a kid growing up in Australia I used to watch the FA Cup final live every year, I then started watching the old First Division and then the Premier League, so it was always a dream for me to come and play here.
‘To have the opportunity to play in the FA Cup, which is such a historical cup competition, is a privilege and an honour.’
It’s been a satisfactory Christmas and New Year period for Chelsea, with four wins from five in the Barclays Premier League, and though the games continue to come, Schwarzer believes the winning habit acquired of late can only serve as a positive.
‘It definitely helps with motivation,’ he says. ‘From a confidence point of view it’s a big lift when you’re getting results.
‘Sometimes, in a period when you have so many games in succession, you’re not always going to play the best football, but I think we’ve been able to combine playing some good football with grinding out results, and we finished the hectic festive schedule with a very convincing performance at Southampton.’
Join Jason Cundy, Tommy Langley and Graham Stuart for Wherever They May Be today at 1.15pm on Chelsea TV, as the trio look ahead to the game and bring you an exclusive interview with Jose Mourinho, as well as all the breaking team news from the iPro Stadium.