With the third-round hurdle successfully cleared by the team, columnist and former Chelsea star Pat Nevin assesses the state of the road to Wembley ahead for those clubs still in the FA Cup…
FA Cup weekend is always exciting; well it is most of the time. I did think Chelsea’s cruise to victory was however rather unenthusiastically received on the UK coverage. It was summed up at the end by the presenter, ‘let’s hope the next game on the channel is a little better.’
Shame that, as Chelsea totally dominated possession in what was widely accepted as being a very tricky away tie. They were up at 80% possession for long periods of the game and made enough chances to win 5-0 at least. Pretty impressive by most standards.
Tactically, Derby were blown away but the talking points seemed to be more about the negatives….again. The day before I was at Ewood Park on ‘the wireless’ for the visit of Manchester City. Blackburn Rovers are a limited but spirited side who are currently sitting 10th in the Championship. They did however make life very difficult for City and the 1-1 draw was the least that the home side deserved. This is the point of the FA Cup, on the road against the outsiders it is not easy. I just think Chelsea’s victory over Derby, who are actually fourth in the Championship, should have been lauded just a little more.
Maybe the broadcasters just want an upset and a story. As I watched the Blackburn v Man City tie from the confines of the press box, I noticed that even Liverpool TV seemed to have turned up in numbers for the event; at least I think it was Liverpool TV as it was being covered by David James, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen.
Enough light-hearted whining. From my perspective it was another superbly efficient performance from the Blues and at times the passing play was exceptional. It did however take a while to break down the Derby defence, but that is why you try to keep the ball and pass at that level, to tire the opposition and create gaps. With tiredness from chasing the ball and hardly getting a kick in Chelsea’s half to the sight of Torres and particularly Hazard coming on fresh as subs, Steve McClaren’s boys must have felt pretty crushed by the end. They certainly would have been crushed had Fernando finished the two chances he had in quick succession.
The job was done however and with Manchester United falling at the first hurdle, City stumbling and even the likes of Newcastle going out along with Spurs, the competition already looks like it is opening up. Stoke City will not be easy but if we play close to our best at home then we should get through that one as well. Where are the dangers? Personally I think no team would relish travelling to Merseyside at the moment and of course the Etihad and the Emirates would be less than perfect draws. Any of those teams down at the Bridge would be acceptable, but that is getting too far ahead, Stoke have to be given the right level of respect first.
It is however strange to see all the very top teams taking the FA Cup so seriously, while some of the less glamorous teams in the Premier League are being a bit more sanguine in their outlook. Obviously it is all about the other clubs concentrating on staying in the league and the bigger clubs understanding the demand for silverware. There are very few trophies available and they are harder to get your hands on than they have been for a few years with the gap at the top arguably being as close as it ever has been. With that thought in mind I suspect this year may not be the year of the underdog at Wembley come May. Wigan were incredible winners last season, but a club from below the bottom half of the table or from outside the Premier League will really have their work cut out. Then again it is the FA Cup so you just never know.
In the meantime there is a league calendar to look forward to and something that looks dangerously like a break, i.e. only one game per week (roughly) for the next month until the Champions League kicks in again. I reckon the Hull City game could be a much trickier tie now than it would have seemed just a few weeks ago. At home they have beaten Liverpool 3-1, just lost 3-2 against Man Utd, drawn with Stoke and hit Fulham for six. (Apologies for the cricket reference for those Englishmen of a sensitive disposition).
If we can squeeze past Hull, there are four homes games out of the next five matches. Even if Man City is the away game and United are in the home run there is no reason why we can’t still be in the pack not only fighting, but waiting for others to slip up, if we keep up the form of the last few months. Actually I have just noticed there are too many ‘ifs’ in the last couple of sentences. I was going to take one out, but realised that is the problem; it is all ifs and buts as ever.
Maybe the biggest imponderable of all is what impact any new signings in the January window will make for the challengers going forward. I can’t tell you what Chelsea will do, because I don’t know, but certainly Manchester United must add or they will struggle to make the top four. Meanwhile Arsene Wenger is scouring the planet for a usable centre-forward, City need to give Kompany some company at centre back and both Liverpool and Everton will certainly need to deepen their squads if they have any pretensions of keeping up the Merseyside challenge this season. For once I am looking forward to the transfer window and all its trials and tribulations. With such a tight title race, for once a January signing might just make the difference as to who wins and who loses the trophies, and as we all know this isn’t usually the case.
Last week’s quiz asked which Chelsea legendary figure was born in Setubal. Well back in 1963 (a fine year to be born I always think) our own Jose Mourinho had his first quizzical view of the planet in that very town. Top marks for anyone who mentioned that we also have another coach on the staff who was born there! There can only be one winner and this week however and it is Kristijan Terzioski from Skopje, Macedonia . Well done.
This week to have a chance of winning a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me the name of any player who has played first team football for both Chelsea and Hull City? Answers to be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as ever I will select the winner at random from the correct responses.