Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 8/13
Chelsea will be playing host to Sheffield United in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It’ll be a clash between two teams on very different levels this season, with the Blues heavily favoured to go through.
Things have been going extremely well for Chelsea since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as the manager. The team looks very stable in all areas, the big-money signings from last summer have started to make significant contribution, and most importantly, they are yet to lose a match under the German, having conceded no more than two goals in the 13 games they’ve played since the change.
At the moment, the Blues sit in fourth place in the Premier League. They can hardly hope to overtake Manchester City at the top of the table with the gap between them standing at 20 points, but remaining inside the top four and qualifying for next season’s Champions League would be a very good result.
Of course, Chelsea are still in the running to win UEFA’s elite club competition this term, having thoroughly outplayed Atletico Madrid over two legs in the round of 16, and they will be happy with the quarterfinals draw which has them pitted against FC Porto.
Speaking of favourable draws, Chelsea have also been fortunate in the FA Cup so far, having been denied the trophy by Arsenal in last season’s final. This is the first time they will face Premier League opposition, having so far beaten Morecambe, Luton Town (Lampard’s last game in charge) and Barnsley.
Tuchel won’t be able to call upon defender Thiago Silva who celebrated the triumph against Atletico earlier this week very passionately on the stands of Stamford Bridge.
Striker Tammy Abraham could be involved, but Tuchel is unlikely to risk a player who is only coming back from an ankle problem. The same goes for defender Andreas Christensen, who has recovered from an illness. Timo Werner is likely to be rested after a very good performance of Wednesday, which makes Olivier Giroud a prime candidate to start upfront.
Wingers Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, as well as left-back Ben Chillwell, will be pushing for a start, having come on as substitutes against Atletico, and Kepa Arrizabalaga could be given the nod ahead of Edouard Mendy between the posts. Mason Mount is also likely to play from the start.
After two glorious campaigns, one in which they won Premier League promotion and the following one where they finished in the top half to the top-flight table, Sheffield United are going through a season from hell. They failed to win any of their opening 17 matches in the league, and are still nailed to the floor with only 14 points from 29 matches played – the same number as the gap between them and Newcastle in 17th, the last place to grant its occupant survival at the end. Relegation is practically inevitable.
Despite the obvious crisis, Chris Wilder’s spell in charge of the team which lasted just under five years is widely considered as successful, but the 53-year-old was understandably sacked earlier this month and the job is now being covered by Paul Heckingbottom as a temporary solution.
Like Chelsea, the Blades have so far only faced lower-level opposition in the FA Cup. Their road has gone through Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Bristol City, most likely to reach its end at Stamford Bridge.
The list of players unavailable for this clash is a bit longer than that of Chelsea. Defenders John Egan, Jack O’Connell and Jack Robinson, midfielders Sander Berge and Jack Rodwell, and forward David McGoldrick are all ruled out.
It remains to be seen how much room Heckingbottom will have to rotate the team in those circumstances, and indeed, if he’ll feel the need to do so at all given that Sheffield’s last match was played a week before and the next is scheduled for April 3rd.
The Blades could seek motivation in the fact that a win at Stamford Bridge would represent a significant confidence boost and decent consolation for the Premier League fiasco. They will feel no pressure whatsoever going into the match and that could help as well, but their chances are still next to non-existent.
It would probably be crazy to put money on the visitors, but on the other hand, the odds on Chelsea are so short that it may not be worth it.
The main thing to note here is probably the depth of Chelsea’s attacking section, and even though Tuchel’s team don’t score many goals these days, the players that get to take part in this game will be looking to prove themselves as much as they can in the hope of being counted on for the more difficult challenges ahead.
Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 8/13
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