Murmurs of a potential early exit for Chelsea boss Mauricio Sarri may have been put on the back burner this week by his side reaching the Carabao Cup final, but the studious Italian could find himself back under pressure if his side struggles here in the FA Cup. Facing perpetual Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, the former Napoli boss could do with a comfortable win here after a month where his side – once title hopefuls – slid to a precarious fourth spot in the Premier League.
Much has been made of Sarri’s thinly-veiled frustration at the side he inherited – although he added his Napoli on-field lieutenant with the summer signing of Jorginho, he’s mostly made do with what was bequeathed him by Antonio Conte. However, this week saw Chelsea sign Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain on loan; a player Sarri knows well, the Juventus man is dangerous in the box. For Wednesday, it’s a final foray for caretaker managers Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence; Steve Bruce will take the reins full-time from the end of the month, and continue a chain of Steves.
Chelsea vs Sheffield Wednesday Prediction: Chelsea 3-0 Sheffield Wednesday
Wednesday are unlikely to be relegated from the Championship and, unless Steve Bruce has found a magic ring during his pre-agreed family time, they are equally unlikely to be promoted. They don’t really fit the mould of the kind of team that would spring a surprise by winning at Stamford Bridge; by and large, they lack the kind of player who would put in a career-defining 90 minutes to slay the giants. With the addition of Higuain, the “Sarri-ball” approach that has yet to really take root at Chelsea may well look more polished here; Alvaro Morata, due to return to Spain on loan, has never really fit the mould of the “graceful but burly” centre-forward Sarri favours.
Our recommended tip: Higuain scores first
Having spent the first half of this season on loan at Milan, Gonzalo Higuain often cut a frustrated figure under the attritional approach of boss Rino Gattuso. The premature termination of that loan, and his re-loaning to Chelsea, may be the best thing for Milan, Higuain and Chelsea alike. First and foremost, the Argentinian is a penalty-box striker, something Chelsea have lacked for too long. With decent service from the wings, which he can expect here, the Argentinian striker is very tempting at 13/5 to open the scoring, and 888sport are offering precisely those odds.
It’s been nineteen years since these sides last met, 2000 being the year that Wednesday were relegated from the Premier League. A rare shaft of light in an otherwise dark season came at Hillsborough, where Wim Jonk scored from the penalty spot to see a still-doomed home side past Gianluca Vialli’s Blues. It was a measure of revenge for a 3-0 defeat earlier in the season, which Chelsea secured with goals from Jody Morris, Tore Andre Flo and future “I’m a Celebrity…” contestant Dennis Wise.
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Players to watch: Gonzalo Higuain & Atdhe Nuhiu
Higuain is looking to get his career back on track here; pushed out at Juventus by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, the striker is certainly more than capable of scoring the goals that have too often been missing from a Chelsea side that looks so good in the first eighty yards of the pitch. Assuming he strikes up a quick rapport with his team-mates, the former Argentinian international might well be one of January’s canniest signings – particularly as they’re still active in two cup competitions and the league.
Speaking of chunky forwards with decent pedigree who haven’t had the season they’d have hoped for, Kosovo international Nuhiu has for much of this campaign been a shadow of the player he was last season. However, he was the man who mattered in the last round, firing the winning goal for Wednesday as they defeated Luton Town 1-0. It was one of only three goals he’s scored this season – compared to 14 across the last campaign – but if he can regain the confidence he has had before, Nuhiu has the game to hurt Chelsea’s defence.