By Luke Feather
Every season, the FA Cup conjures up some of the biggest mismatches possible within the English football pyramid. Last season’s campaign saw Chelsea defeat lower league opposition three times on route to the final, before being stopped by Leicester City in the final. The third round of this season’s competition provides a totally different match up for the champions of Europe, as they host National League leaders Chesterfield at Stamford Bridge.
Chesterfield primarily operate in different variants of a 3-4-3 formation, with manager James Rowe switching between two number 10’s behind top scorer Kabongo Tshimanga, or just one, with another striker in the side. Tshimanga has lit up the National League this season, scoring 18 goals in 20 league matches this season. The 24-year-old has been the subject of interest for Football League clubs, after joining Chesterfield for a reported record transfer fee in the summer.
Wing backs Jeff King and Calvin Miller will look to provide attacking threat for the Spireites, with the pair impressing since signing in the summer. With Chelsea stretched in the wide areas due to injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James, this may be Chesterfield’s biggest opportunity to cause a major FA Cup shock. Youngsters Xavier Simons and Lewis Hall are in line for a start, so will be given the task of dealing with two of the National League outfit’s biggest weapons.
After returning to the team against Tottenham on Wednesday, striker Romelu Lukaku may keep his place in the side, with Thomas Tuchel looking to get his £100m man firing again. If so, he will likely be in a direct battle with Gavin Gunning, who captains the side and is a guaranteed starter when fit. Gunning spent a period side-lined due to injury, with Jamie Grimes coming in in his place. A more likely starter for Chelsea would be Jude Soonsup-Bell, who has recently started in attack in the League Cup game against Brentford, with the 17-year-old shining for the Blues’ youth sides.
I expect Chelsea to start with Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield, with Barkley in particular struggling for game time in bigger fixtures. Loftus-Cheek made a cameo appearance against Tottenham, as he continues to build back up to full fitness, so may be given a start against Chesterfield. The away side have a few options in the centre of the pitch, but veteran Curtis Weston and Manny Oyeleke are probably the most likely to start at the Bridge. Weston remains the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup final, for Millwall in 2004, and Oyeleke is a former Chelsea academy player, being released at 14.
As the champions of Europe, currently sitting second in the Premier League, Chelsea will go into this match as massive favourites, but whoever Tuchel picks for in his starting 11 will not have a comfortable game on their hands. Chesterfield will be chomping at the bit from minute one, as for many of the players, this will be the biggest match of their careers. Chelsea will have a technical advantage, as well as superior fitness levels, but the club from Derbyshire will look to frustrate and disrupt the rhythm of Chelsea, with strong challenges and intense pressing. All the signs point towards a home win, but Chesterfield will not lie down for the Champions League winners, making this one of the most intriguing ties of the FA Cup third round.
Predicted Chelsea line up:
Marcus Bettinelli; Cesar Azpilicueta, Xavier Mbuyamba, Malang Sarr; Xavier Simons, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Hall; Harvey Vale, Jude Soonsup-Bell, Callum Hudson-Odoi (3-4-3)
Predicted Chesterfield line up:
Scott Loach; Fraser Kerr, Gavin Gunning, Alex Whittle; Jeff King, Manny Oyeleke, Curtis Weston, Calvin Miller; Saidou Khan, Liam Mandeville; Kabongo Tshimanga (3-4-2-1)
Featured image: The FA