Antonio Conte will be looking for his side to make a statement as they host Hull City in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Friday.
Chelsea returned to winning ways after the 4-1 loss to Watford, by sweeping away the threat posed by relegation threatened West Brom with a 3-0 scoreline at Stamford Bridge. But, there remain many more questions to be answered as the Blues attempt to navigate what will be a very tough run of fixtures starting with their UEFA Champions League match against Barcelona.
Hull City, on the other hand, managed to climb above the relegation zone with a 2-0 win away at Nottingham Forest in the Championship. The Tigers are struggling to show any kind of form and will be looking at the Chelsea fixture in the FA Cup to spur the team on to make a run in order to ensure safety in the Championship.
The FA Cup is often known for the upsets and a potential good performance by Hull City could inspire them and use the result as a launchpad for their road to survival in the Championship. Chelsea, on the other hand, will also look to use this fixture as a springboard to go into the Barcelona match with some kind of momentum.
Hull’s last visit to Stamford Bridge saw them lose 2-0 to Chelsea. Ahead of their latest encounter, this time in the fifth round of the FA Cup, we take a closer look at the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
Antonio Conte has already iterated that he is ready to make wholesale changes against Hull and field a heavily rotated side in the FA Cup. But, the Italian is still likely to put forth a strong starting eleven, one more than capable of running over the Tigers if all goes well.
Three players who will not be featuring are Ross Barkley, Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz, all of whom are still regaining fitness. Marcos Alonso is also a doubt and should ideally, not be risked against Hull, with Conte likely to field deadline-day arrival Emerson Palmieri in Alonso’s stead.
Willy Caballero should assume the duties of guarding the Chelsea goal, with Thibaut Courtois rested.
We should see the likes of Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi stake a claim to start on Friday, with Danny Drinkwater almost a certainty to start, given the injuries to Barkley and Bakayoko. Victor Moses will also be handed some rest ahead of the crucial tie against Barcelona, meaning a start for Davide Zappacosta.
Despite incurring an injury against West Brom, Olivier Giroud is likely to spearhead the Chelsea attack, while Conte could rest Eden Hazard and others, and start Pedro, Willian or Hudson-Odoi to support Giroud.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Caballero; Rudiger, Ampadu, Cahill; Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Kante, Palmieri; Hudson-Odoi, Pedro; Giroud
A major cause of the struggle that Hull City and Nigel Adkins are currently facing is the long list of injuries, with as many as 12 stars sidelined. To add to the misery of selecting a fit starting eleven, the on-loan Chelsea trio of Michael Hector, Ola Aina and Fikayo Tomori are ineligible to take the field on Friday, against their parent club.
Ryan Mason has also called time on his career, rather prematurely, after his gruesome skull fracture.
Adkins has so far experimented with the formation, but there are signs that he may choose to field a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 in order to seize the opportunity, with Conte likely to name a somewhat second-string side.
David Marshall has been Hull’s go-to keeper in the FA Cup and is likely to be deputised in goal again on Friday. Max Clark and Brian Lenihan should be guarding the flanks while Adkins is likely to go with the pairing of Ondrej Mazuch and Angus Macdonald at the heart of the defence.
Harry Wilson has been in some form and should start on the wing again, with Jarrod Bowen likely to be preferred ahead of Kamil Grosicki on the other wing. In attacking midfield, we should see Adkins deploy Jon Toral, with the manager likely to go with Frazier Campbell to lead the Hull attack.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Marshall; Lenihan, Macdonald, Mazuch, Clark; Meyler, Stewart; Bowen, Toral, Wilson; Campbell
1. Chelsea have never lost a competitive game against Hull City, winning 17 and drawing the other five.
2. Chelsea have progressed past the fifth round of the FA Cup in nine of their previous 10 attempts, with their only failure coming in a loss to Manchester City in 2014.
3. Chelsea come into the game on the back of a very poor run of results, with just 3 wins in their last 10 matches in all competitions.
4. Hull City have remarkably kept 5 clean sheets in their last 10 matches in all competitions, while Chelsea have failed to score in 4 of their last 10 fixtures in all competitions.
5. Olivier Giroud has a fantastic record in FA Cup, with 13 goals and 6 assists in 23 matches in the competition.
Player to Watch
Much has been made of Drinkwater and his inability to have the same impact at Chelsea compared to his playing days at Leicester. But, with Barkley and Bakayoko sidelined, this could be the perfect opportunity to establish himself as a starter at Stamford Bridge.
With Conte fielding a heavily rotated side, if Drinkwater manages to boss the midfield, we might just see the manager rewarding him with a meatier role in the games to come, especially with Chelsea heading into a crucial run of fixtures.
Chelsea 2-1 Hull City
While Conte stated that he is set to field a rotated eleven, he also stressed on the fact that the FA Cup remains an important competition for Chelsea, which is likely to reflect on their performance on Friday. We expect Hull City to come out hoping to get a win under their belt and shock the defending Premier League champions.
But, the gulf in class and the quality that Chelsea possess should pull them through. Olivier Giroud to get on the scoresheet, with Chelsea likely to nick it by a goal.