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

than Arsenal.

Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for covering the

UEFA Champions League and the Barclay’s Premier League.