The FA Cup third round weekend is one of the best of the footballing calendar. The holders, Chelsea, welcome Nottingham Forest to Stamford Bridge as they start their defence of the competition. The home side have struggled on their own patch during recent weeks, with a defeat to Leicester City and a draw to Southampton fresh in the memory. They will be looking to cast away those demons against lower league opposition.
Maurizio Sarri will be itching to start his reign as Chelsea manager with a trophy and this competition offers a good opportunity for that. Chelsea have had a lot of success in this competition since the turn of the millennium and it would mark a good season if they were to retain it and qualify for the Champions League. In their current manager, they have a coach capable of building for the long-term and they have to treat this season as one of transition.
Nottingham Forest have improved under Aitor Karanka and they are now outside bets for a play-off position. A lot was expected from them at the beginning of the season due to the amount of money that was invested in the first-team squad. A lot of comparisons were made to Wolves, but Forest are a lot earlier in their journey than the team that won the Championship last season. This will provide an excellent opportunity to test themselves against top opposition.
Chelsea have reached the previous two FA Cup finals.
Last season, Nottingham Forest knocked out the current holders (Arsenal) at this stage of the competition.
The midfielder has slowly worked his way into the first-team under Sarri after being given few opportunities at the beginning of the season. Loftus-Cheek will be looking at other English players thriving abroad and wonder what could have been if he left Stamford Bridge on a permanent deal before now. However, he is now finally being given a chance and it is imperative that he makes the most of it, especially in matches such as these. It would be a surprise if he didn’t start against Nottingham Forest and he has the potential to play a starring role. Goals have been a problem for the team during recent weeks, as it is obvious there is a reliance on Eden Hazard. An attack-minded midfielder such as Loftus-Cheek could offer solutions to that problem and it is a good chance to show that this weekend. He has currently contributed six goals across all competitions this season. Saturday provides an opportunity to add to that tally.
There is a lot of talent in the Nottingham Forest squad, but Jack Colback will be their key man on Saturday. The former Sunderland and Newcastle United midfielder has an abundance of Premier League experience. His knowhow will be important if they are to have any chance of progressing to the next round. The Englishman isn’t afraid to get stuck in and be aggressive against more talented players. Chelsea will dominate possession, therefore it is crucial that Forest are tenacious and aggressive in their work without the ball. Against Leeds United earlier this week, Colback was the unexpected attacking star as he scored two goals to earn a good win over the current Championship leaders. He has confidence and he will be desperate to prove to the world that he can still compete at a high level.
Willian, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all doubts for the match this weekend. Olivier Giroud is unlikely to be risked. Cesc Fabregas could come into the team for what could be his final game for the club. Ethan Ampadu, Andreas Christensen, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Alvaro Morata are all expected to start.
Micheal Hefele will be missing for the visitors, while Lewis Grabban is a significant doubt. Ben Osborn is in contention to start after an impressive cameo against Leeds United.
This should be straight-forward for Chelsea given they are at home, but they can’t afford to take it for granted. Nottingham Forest proved they could beat top opposition in this competition last season and they will go into this game with nothing to lose. That said, the home side should have enough to win and make it through to the next round. The players coming in will be deperate to impress and that should make a big difference.
Chelsea 2-0 Nottingham Forest