Chelsea must be wary of a potential FA Cup third-round upset when Nottingham Forest travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, but Maurizio Sarri’s men should ultimately emerge victorious in a game which is likely to feature goals for both sides.
It is fair to say that Chelsea have gone through their fair share of managers in the Roman Abramovich era, but their approach to the FA Cup has been largely consistent regardless of the identity of the man in the dugout.
Indeed, the Blues have tended to take the competition very seriously over the last decade and a half: no team can better their record of five triumphs since 2004, while they have also finished as runners-up on another occasion and reached the semi-finals twice more in that time.
Successive managers have opted to rotate their starting XI in the third round and Sarri will be no different, but there is still a fair presumption that Chelsea will not be happy with an early exit from English football’s foremost knockout tournament.
The Blues have taken four points from their last two Premier League encounters, but they did not play well in either of those games against Crystal Palace or Southampton. Admittedly, Sarri’s side conceded few chances across both matches and did not let in a single goal in the 180 minutes, but they also created very little of note themselves.
Chelsea may have dominated possession at both Selhurst Park and Stamford Bridge, yet they only scored one goal, with their attack looking blunt and ineffectual against teams who are battling against the drop.
This could be down to fatigue at the end of the busy festive period, but supporters will be concerned by the lack of creativity and guile seen in the last seven days – a fault Sarri himself acknowledged in his post-match press conference on Wednesday. With the Chelsea boss likely to ring the changes here, a Forest side who have recently put four past Leeds United and three past Norwich City – the Championship’s top two – will fancy their chances of scoring at least once.
Nottingham Forest have been in poor form in the last few weeks, although Aitor Karanka will hope that his side’s come-from-behind victory over league leaders Leeds on New Year’s Day proves to be a turning point.
Jose Mourinho’s former assistant had come under heavy pressure following a run of five games without a win prior to the 4-2 success against Marcelo Bielsa’s men, particularly given the amount of money he was given to spend in the summer transfer market.
Anything other than qualification for the play-offs would be considered a disappointment by those who sit upstairs at the City Ground, but while securing a return to the top flight is the club’s primary objective this term, a shock win in west London on Saturday would afford Karanka extra breathing space ahead of next weekend’s trip to Reading.
Even if Forest believe they can find the net at Stamford Bridge – only Leeds (23) can better their return of 22 goals on the road in the Championship this season – they are unlikely to keep Chelsea out at the other end.
Karanka’s side have kept just one clean sheet in their last six outings, while in the last few weeks they have conceded five goals to Aston Villa, three to Norwich and two to Leeds. With that in mind, it is tempting to back Chelsea to score more than 2.5 times (19/20 with Coral) despite their recent issues going forward.
Sarri will be looking for more attacking incision from his side this weekend, which is why Cesc Fabregas can expect to be included in the XI despite rumours that he is set to leave the club for Monaco this month. There could also be opportunities from the start for the likes of Andreas Christensen, Emerson Palmieri and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the latter of whom looks good value to score anytime at a price of 7/5 with Betway.
Overall, the Blues will probably prove too strong for a Forest team who have looked vulnerable in recent matches – but do not discount the visitors causing problems of their own against a weakened Chelsea XI.
A home victory and both teams to score can be found at 19/10 with Coral; alternatively, if you are feeling a little less ambitious consider putting some money on a victory for Sarri’s side in a game featuring more than 3.5 goals, a wager which is offered at a best price of 33/20 by Ladbrokes.
Words: Greg Lea - @GregLeaFootball