Chelsea will hope to avoid being on the wrong end of one of the FA Cup’s greatest giant killings when non-league side Chesterfield pay a visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening.
The Blues have taken runners-up medals in the last two editions of the tournament, while the National League visitors have not made it past round three since 2015.
It was Deja vu for Chelsea in the 2020-21 FA Cup – one year on from their defeat to Arsenal behind closed doors at Wembley a year earlier – as a Youri Tielemans wonder strike settled the contest in Leicester City’s favour in front of the returning crowd.
The Blues therefore need no added incentive to go one better this time around and follow in the footsteps of the women’s team – who lifted the FA Cup back in December – and they already have one foot in one domestic cup final.
Indeed, Kai Havertz’s early opener and Ben Davies’s comical own goal saw Chelsea execute a deserved 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final, with Antonio Conte’s return to Stamford Bridge proving to be a miserable affair.
The Premier League title may now be too far gone for Thomas Tuchel’s men, but they are now unbeaten in nine games across all competitions and managed to end a worrying streak of home draws by comfortably seeing off their London rivals in midweek.
Tuchel will undoubtedly hand opportunities to his up-and-coming starlets on Saturday, but not since the 1997-98 season have Chelsea exited the FA Cup in the third round, and the German coach will want to ensure that a similar fate does not occur here.
Chesterfield also enter Saturday’s contest at Stamford Bridge on a rich vein of form, but the fifth-tier side’s resistance will be put under the ultimate challenge in the capital, even if Tuchel opts for an incredibly youthful setup.
James Rowe’s side have already made it past Curzon Ashton, Southend United and Salford City to make it this far, and they prevailed 1-0 over King’s Lynn in the weekend’s National League contest thanks to Liam Mandeville’s 51st-minute effort.
A long-awaited return to the Football League beckons for this Chesterfield outfit, who currently hold a two-point lead atop the National League table with games in hand over closest challengers Halifax Town and celebrity-owned Wrexham.
Rowe’s side enter Saturday’s third-round contest having gone 14 games unbeaten across all tournaments – winning each of their last three on the road without conceding a goal – and they have already achieved their best FA Cup finish since the 2014-15 season.
Chesterfield won their first-ever battle with Chelsea back in 1905 but have failed to win any of their subsequent six meetings with the European champions since, most recently losing 3-0 in the 1949-50 FA Cup, and a harsh reality check is likely in order this weekend.
Chelsea form (all competitions):
Chesterfield FA Cup form:
Chesterfield form (all competitions):
We say: Chelsea 5-0 Chesterfield
Chesterfield are unlikely to face some of the biggest names that Chelsea have to offer, but a mixture of fringe and youthful Blues players should still get the job done convincingly.
The visitors deserve immense credit for navigating the unforgiving winter period as well as they did, but the FA Cup journey will likely come to an end for Rowe and co here.