Thomas Tuchel must depend on his well earned reputation for coaxing the best out of his entire 25-man squad through a mixture of tactical tinkering and rotation over the next two months as Chelsea negotiate a minefield of fixtures in a battle for accolades on three fronts. The German tactician has turned around the West London club’s fortunes since replacing Frank Lampard three months ago, leading the Blues into semifinals of both the FA Cup and Champions League, as well as putting them on the cusp of a top four Premier League finish.
Chelsea’s demanding schedule of matches over the next eight weeks starts with Sunday’s FA Cup semis against EPL champion elects Manchester City but also includes a two-legged Champions League semifinal against Zinedine Zidane’s European heavyweights Real Madrid, and clashes with Top Four rivals West Ham and Leicester City. In addition, the Stamford Bridge club must navigate tricky Premier League fixtures at City’s Etihad Stadium, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Villa Park.
The German tactician can call on a full compliment of all but one player – Mateo Kovacic is out for a week – for Sunday’s humdinger with Pep Guardiola’s runaway Premier League leaders. Quadruple chasing City are the bookmakers slight favourites, as though both sides qualified for the Champions League semifinals midweek, it was in contrasting fashion, with City toppling Borussia Dortmund 4-2 on aggregate and Chelsea squeezing past Porto despite losing the second leg 0-1. City record scorer Sergio Aguero faces a late fitness test for this tie.
Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers is meanwhile hoping Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Ralph Hassenhuttl’s Southampton is the diversion needed to end a mini slide that has seen the Foxes lose two games on the bounce. Rodgers is expected to lift suspensions for influential trio James Maddison, Ayoze Perez and Hamza Choudary, all of whom missed last weekend’s 2-3 reversal to West Ham. Rodgers is however still without James Justin, Caglar Soyuncu (Covid-19), Harvey Barnes and Wes Morgan.
Premier League action commences Friday night with Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti happy to welcome keeper Jordan Pickford, midfielder Andre Homes and strikers Dominic Calvert Lewin and Joshua King back from injury for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur. Ancelotti is however still without long term absentees Abdoulaye Doucoure and Fabian Delph. Spurs supremo Jose Mourinho is without Ben Davis and Matt Doherty as he aims to bounce back from last weekend’s 1-3 humbling at the hands of Manchester United.
Fulham know they are in a last chance saloon when they travel to Arsenal on Sunday. Three losses in a row have seen the Cottagers fall six points behind Newcastle United in the race against relegation. Steve Bruce’s Magpies are meanwhile counting on returning dangerous duo Allain Saint Maximim and Callum Wilson to challenge David Moyes’ red-hot West Ham. The Hammers remain without Michail Antonio (hamstring) and Declan Rice (knee). Wolves’ game at home to Sheffield United and Burnley’s visit to Old Trafford complete the weekend fixture list.
Leicester City v Southampton
Chelsea v Manchester City
FRIDAY Everton v Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United v West Ham,
Wolves v Sheffield United
Arsenal v Fulham,
Man United v Burnley
Leeds United v Liverpool