Preview: Chelsea vs. Sheffield United

Preview: Chelsea vs. Sheffield United

A place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup is up for grabs on Sunday when Chelsea welcome Sheffield United to Stamford Bridge.

The Blues are still unbeaten under new boss Thomas Tuchel, whereas Sheffield United’s own change of management got off to the worst possible start last time out.

There has been a controversial managerial change at both of these clubs this season, but they have so far yielded contrasting results.

While it is too early to judge Sheffield United’s decision to sack Chris Wilder, even taking into account their 5-0 defeat in the first match of the post-Wilder era, it is becoming more and more difficult to deny that Chelsea made a shrewd decision in replacing Frank Lampard with Tuchel.

The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain boss has so far led his side back into the top four, through to the Champions League quarter-finals to face Porto and will now be looking to book an FA Cup semi-final date too.

A 2-0 triumph over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night means that Tuchel has now enjoyed the longest unbeaten start of any manager in Chelsea’s history, winning nine and drawing four of his 13 games at the helm so far.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect has been their defensive record; the Atletico win provided Chelsea’s sixth clean sheet in a row, while they have kept 11 in his 13 games in charge so far and have conceded just two goals in that run.

Remarkably, the Blues are yet to concede a single goal at home during Tuchel’s tenure, last doing so in Frank Lampard’s final game in charge – a 3-1 win over Luton Town in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Chelsea have also seen off Morecambe and Barnsley so far in this season’s competition to make it to the quarter-finals for the 15th time since the turn of the millennium – more than any other club in that time.

The eight-time winners have gone on to reach the semi-finals four times in the last five seasons, and they will be favourites to continue that impressive record against a Sheffield United side that has severely struggled in the Premier League this season.

The Blades made the worst start to a top-flight season in English football history and, while things have improved since the turn of the year with 12 of their 14 points coming in 2021, it is only a matter of time before relegation is mathematically confirmed.

Sheffield United are 14 points adrift of safety with only nine games remaining, meaning that the FA Cup is their last remaining hope to salvage anything from their season.

Like Chelsea, the Blades have only come up against lower-league opposition en route to the last eight, plundering the West Country with victories over Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Bristol City.

Those wins have earned them a place in the quarter-finals for a second successive year – the first time they have managed that since 2003-04 – but you have to go back to 1992-93 for the last time they beat top-flight opposition to make it into the semi-finals of this competition.

Sheffield United have also lost six of their last nine away FA Cup games against top-flight sides, although they do arrive at Stamford Bridge on a three-match winning away run in the cup.

In all competitions, though, they have lost their last four on the road without scoring a single goal, most recently the 5-0 drubbing they received at the hands of Leicester City last weekend as Paul Heckingbottom’s interim reign got off to an inauspicious start.

That does not bode well coming up against a Chelsea side in such good form and with such a good defensive record, but much stranger things have happened in the FA Cup and for Sheffield United the success of their season could well come down to Sunday’s match.

Chelsea FA Cup form:
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Chelsea form (all competitions):
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Sheffield United FA Cup form:
WWW
Sheffield United form (all competitions):
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