Could a cup run be Chelsea’s catalyst?

Chelsea Predicted XI

Begovic, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Baba Rahman, Mikel, Matic, Pedro, Fabregas, Willian, Diego Costa

The FA Cup last year didn’t go so well for Chelsea. That 4-2 defeat at home to Bradford City was a bizarre and unfortunate afternoon for the Champions elect. Yet now the resonance of that afternoon rings loud and clear.

Over the period between Christmas and New Year Chelsea would be on the back end of two traumatic afternoons of the football; the 5-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and the aforementioned game against Bradford City. With hindsight, however these two momentary blips of sub-par performance take on greater importance when you look at the Chelsea team today.

Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. Three of the best players of the Premier League. Three of the best players during the opening 4 months of last season all saw their form curtail off over the second half of the season. The summer couldn’t halt the slump, as José Mourinho watched over perhaps the worst start to a title defence the league had ever seen. If one game in the FA Cup can be located as part of Chelsea’s ills today, then maybe the FA Cup can be seen as a catalyst for a brighter upturn in fortunes?

And what a way to start the preparations for a cup game than rumoured training ground scuffles between Diego Costa and Oscar. However much Guus Hiddink tries to play things down; you can’t help but wonder what is going on at Chelsea this season? This mystery aside, Chelsea are very fortunate that the draw of the ball see them play at home this weekend.

For a team in desperate need to string a few decent performances together, the home comforts of one of the best playing surfaces in the country really should aid Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend. Since Mourinho’s departure Chelsea are unbeaten in 4, with their most impressive performance coming last weekend against Crystal Palace. The inclusion of Mikel, a Hiddink favourite from his previous tenure and an improvement in performance might be no coincidence. At the base of Chelsea’s midfield Mikel dominated the middle of the park against Palace with his ability to read the game compensating for apparent lack of top speed (Adam Bates writes a great piece about the impact of Mikel here), with questions now rising to why Mourinho didn’t utilise the Nigerian more himself.

For Scunthorpe United, the little shot of glory offered up here is an additional bonus to a mixed season so far in League One. In 15th place, Scunthorpe find themselves neither here nor there in terms of relegation or promotion. 8 points from 6th and 7 points away from 21st, an FA cup shock here could provide the catalyst for a string of results over the next couple of weeks. Their danger man will undoubtedly be Paddy Madden, the 25 year old Irishman who has 14 goals to his name already this year.

With the BBC identifying this game as a potential ‘giant killing’ and the Guardian highlighting this fixture as a potentially stickier tie if not treated with enough respect, Chelsea’s FA Cup stock isn’t very high at the moment.

However, for all their woe’s this season, Chelsea generally look a little sharper, a little more together and most importantly a little freer. A cloud has been lifted and whilst Chelsea still have a long way to go before we all start putting their players back into our fantasy football teams, as a team their performance against Palace would of bought about a much need shot in the arm for the second part of the season.

Match Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Scunthorpe

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