While the Blues are entering the knockout tournament at the second stage, their visitors have already caused a major upset in the competition, eliminating Coventry City in round one.
Owing to their humbling 12th-placed finish in the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, Chelsea are entering unfamiliar territory in the EFL Cup this week, taking part in the second round of the tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
While all English teams competing in Europe receive a bye into the third round, Mauricio Pochettino’s men have an extra hurdle to clear if they are to add a sixth EFL Cup crown – and a first since the 2014-15 season – to their trophy case six months from now.
Not since the 1995-96 edition have Chelsea been dumped out of the League Cup in the second round – losing to Stoke City 1-0 over two legs that year – but their hopes of stardom were extinguished straight away last year, as they lost in the third round to Manchester City several months on from their penalty-shootout heartache versus Liverpool in the 2022 final.
Seeking to ensure safe passage into round three, Pochettino belatedly got off the mark as Chelsea head coach at the third attempt on Friday night, as Luton Town dug in for a fight at Stamford Bridge but ultimately succumbed to a dazzling individual display from Raheem Sterling.
The England winger made the net ripple twice before Nicolas Jackson opened his Chelsea account in an eventual 3-0 win for the Blues, who are now out to avoid a first EFL Cup loss at Stamford Bridge since the pre-COVID days of October 2019 – a 2-1 fourth-round beating at the hands of Manchester United.
Preview: Chelsea vs. AFC Wimbledon – prediction, team news, lineups
Unlike Chelsea, Wimbledon can proudly claim to be entering Wednesday’s fixture having not lost a single game in the 2023-24 campaign so far, but they were denied a third successive win when recently-relegated Forest Green Rovers paid a visit to Plough Lane at the weekend.
James Ball’s header had Wimbledon in the ascendancy 10 minutes before the break, but veteran attacker Troy Deeney – who joined Forest Green in a player-coach capacity earlier this summer – levelled for the visitors 15 minutes before the end.
While Johnnie Jackson’s side may have felt aggrieved to have lost their slender advantage late on, this week’s travellers to Stamford Bridge can take plenty of encouragement from their start to proceedings in 2023-24, and the unbeaten Dons are occupying a playoff place in the League Two table at this early stage.
Amid their solid fourth-tier form, Wimbledon pulled off one of the scalps of the EFL Cup first round – defeating last year’s Championship playoff runners-up Coventry City 2-1 thanks to an injury-time winner from Ryan McLean – as the Wombles reached round two for just the third time in their history.
Only once have Wimbledon managed to progress further in the EFL Cup, but they were quickly seen off 3-0 by Arsenal in the 2021-22 third round, and many will expect a similar story to befall Jackson’s men in their first-ever meeting with five-time winners Chelsea.
Chelsea form (all competitions):
AFC Wimbledon EFL Cup form:
AFC Wimbledon form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 4-0 AFC Wimbledon
Wimbledon’s impressive start to the League Two campaign must be respected, and the Dons should play without fear in West London, having already stunned the EFL landscape with their giant killing of Coventry City.
However, while Pochettino will undoubtedly field an inexperienced XI, the Blues’ talented youngsters should still have too much for their fourth-tier counterparts, and the Argentine is blessed with an enviable list of reserve options should they be required.