Chelsea looking for FAC romance to reignite season
The fifth round of the F.A. Cup kicks off across England this
weekend with struggling Chelsea facing another major test and two
David vs. Goliath matchups featuring Arsenal and Manchester
Other matches this weekend include Clint Dempsey’s Fulham
facing Stuart Holden’s Bolton on Sunday; Manchester City
replaying against Notts County; Birmingham facing Sheffield
Wednesday and Stoke playing Brighton. All these games are available
either live or on same-day-delay on Fox Soccer and Fox Soccer
Chelsea play Everton in a replay Saturday of their fourth-round
game late last month. Last time at Goodison, the two sides
deadlocked 1-1 with sub Salomon Kalou grabbing Chelsea a late tying
goal against the run of play. Louis Saha had put Everton in front
in the 65th minute, but Kalou’s goal 12 minutes later changed
the tone of the match and keeper Tim Howard was forced to make a
big stop on Nicolas Anelka to preserve the result.
The Blues are under enormous pressure to retain their F.A. Cup
crown, but come into this game looking a mess. Their expensive
transfer window makeover has yet to gel, with the new additions not
halting a slide, five more points dropped in the past two games.
Chelsea first lost a critical match at home to Liverpool and then
saw their title defense effectively ended with a tepid 0-0 draw at
Fulham on Monday. Chelsea, which will face Copenhagen next week in
the Champions League, are now in the unfamiliar position of
fighting for a top-four finish this season. One player who will not
figure in Saturday’s match is $80m man Fernando Torres: the
current most-expensive-player in England – and its biggest bust –
is cup-tied to Liverpool, so cannot take part.
They face an Everton side that slumped badly to Bolton on Sunday
and are in a dogfight of their own: to avoid relegation. The club
sits only three points out of the drop zone and have already lost
eight games in the league. Worse, they were unable to make any
investments in the squad this winter due to the club’s
parlous finances. Captain Phil Neville told local radio that this
Cup tie was a chance for them to “salvage something” from a lost
season, and they are surely catching a nervous Chelsea side at the
best possible time.
Off the field distractions have tainted the two most romantic
pairings, Arsenal’s meeting at Leyton Orient and non-league
Crawley Town’s trip to Old Trafford.
Crawley Town became only the fifth non-league club in modern
times to reach the fifth round, and only the first in seventeen
years. (Tottenham Hotpsur won the FA. Cup in 1901 as amateurs
before joining the league.) But the Red Devils – the nickname
Crawley shares with Manchester United – were deeply humiliated this
week by a fan’s actions caught on a video the squad had made
to commemorate their passage into the fifth round.
A 19-year-old was later arrested and banned for life when the
video caught the fan making taunts over the famous Munich air
disaster of 1958 in which 23 people, including eight members of
Manchester United’s squad, were killed. Crawley Town
immediately pulled the video and profusely apologized.
Crawley Town have also come under the microscope for the size of
their transfer fees, spending $800,000 on one player. That’s
small potatoes in the Premier League – but unheard of in non-league
football. Crawley were bankrupt just five years ago due to unpaid
taxes, but now has wealthy backers in England in the Carter family
– and un-named investors from the Far East, leading some to call
the team the “Manchester City of the non-league.”
League One Leyton Orient were in similar straits in the mid-90s,
bankrupt despite being the second-oldest side in London. The
club’s sale, for five pounds ($8) was so remarkable that it
became the subject of a cult-TV movie (“Orient: Club For A Fiver”)
that illustrated the gritty world of semi-professional football.
Today, the club loses about $1.5m a season, and desperately needs
the payday from their meeting with Arsenal, estimated at $1.2m, to
balance their books.
But Leyton Orient, which is celebrating its 130th anniversary,
now is worried about going out of business because of new
competition. West Ham United were given the high sign to move to
the new Olympic Stadium, which will sit barely a mile away from
Orient’s Brisbane Road home. Orient’s chairman, Barry
Hearn has announced he plans to sue the league in an attempt to
block the move under a little-used regulation in the Premier League
code that prevents clubs from encroachment, but he has admitted his
fight faces steep odds.
In the immediate future, Orient are looking to avenge one of the
greatest losses in their history: They were dumped out of their
only appearance in the F.A. Cup semifinals in 1978 by none other
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the
UEFA Champions League and the Barclay’s Premier League.