The last of the F.A. Cup Quarter Finals takes us to Stamford Bridge and it’s fair to say the best has been saved until last as Chelsea play host to Manchester United. The obvious sub plot here is another return to West London for Jose Mourinho who will be looking to erase the memories of the 4-0 league defeat here last October.
We already know 75% of the Wembley Semi-Final line up but who will be completing the set, will it be the runaway league leaders Chelsea or the holders of this competition Manchester United, while not forgetting it’s a United without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic through suspension.
That’s because Ibrahimovic starts the first of his three match ban for violent conduct, the former Swedish international accepting the charge after elbowing Tyrone Mings at Old Trafford last week. That was in retaliation to a perceived stamp by Mings, which subsequently earned the Bournemouth player a 5 match ban.
So the question this Evening will be who will step into Ibrahimovic’s lofty shoes. Mourinho will not be short of options and Tonight could prove the perfect opportunity for Marcus Rashford to lead the line and perhaps lay claim to the lead attacking role next season should Ibrahimovic depart to Los Angeles Galaxy.
Hosts Chelsea’s last action was exactly a week ago as they made the relatively short trip to East London and got the better of West Ham to once again put their lead at the top of the Premier League to double figures and they would have been further boosted by Manchester City’s failure to cut the gap back to 8 on Wednesday night.
With a league title all but assured in Antonio Conte’s debut season the question now will be whether or not he can do the double and add Wembley success also. Many felt that Chelsea would have a successful season by just earning a Champions League return with a top four finish but the feeling is now that they could well surpass those pre-season expectations.
With the fact that opponents United come into the game not only without Ibrahimovic but also after a cross continental jaunt from Russia on Thursday will certainly play into the home teams hands. The fresher team without a doubt and not having to deal with such a massive attacking force will no doubt play into Chelsea’s hands.
Jose Mourinho’s men were held to a draw against FC Rostov on Thursday night in a result that was not all that surprising. With such a poor playing surface it was not going to be conducive to United’s attempts for free flowing attacking football but on balance with the away goal they are arguably in the box seat for the Old Trafford return.
With Chelsea only playing once a week until the end of the season then Conte can undoubtedly go with a full strength team should he so wish while with United still competing on so many fronts then you do wonder if this is going to be a juggling act for Mourinho.
Before “Mings-Gate” I did feel that United would be favourites going into this one especially with cup football seemingly being their preserve this season but I think my prediction is going to have to change now. I think this is the end of the cup defence for The Red Devils as Chelsea’s double ambitions move a step closer. A win but maybe a win on penalties what with there no longer being replays at this stage of the competition.