After dropping two points on home ground against Southampton, defending champions, Chelsea begin their FA Cup campaign against Nottingham Forest to looking to move a step closer to retaining the trophy that they lifted with victory over Manchester United in May last year, while Nottingham Forest make the trip to Stamford Bridge having returned to winning ways with a 4-2 triumph over Leeds United on New Year’s Day
Seven points from four games over the Christmas period with an injury list which got longer by the match was not the worst return for Chelsea, but it has left Maurizio Sarri with problems heading into the rest of January.
The Blues must find a way to cope with a fixture schedule which brings a double-header with Tottenham Hotspur in the EFL Cup semi-finals at the same time when they also have to contend with three important games in the Premier League.
Sarri’s side now only sit three points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal after Wednesday’s goalless draw with Southampton, and more of his players are beginning to pick up minor muscle injuries after a busy schedule on both the domestic and European scene.
Chelsea have already played 31 competitive matches since Sarri’s arrival in July but even though the Italian has a large squad at his disposal, he has not taken the chance to rotate his players over Christmas.
There were signs against the Saints that some of the members of his squad are ready for a weekend off, but whether that materialises against a strong Forest side remains to be seen.
Alvaro Morata made his first start since December 13 in midweek, but the Spaniard continues to look short of confidence in the final third and Chelsea have a decision to make regarding his long-term future.
Cesc Fabregas has barely been used by Sarri all season, and an appearance against Forest on Saturday could mark the playmaker’s final appearance at Stamford Bridge ahead of a transfer away from the club.
Whoever is selected by Sarri will be given the responsibility of trying to end a run of 10 matches where Chelsea have failed to score more than two goals in a game in any competition.
Nottingham Forest manager, Aitor Karanka went into the game with Leeds earlier this week aware that a defeat may result in Forest terminating his contract, but the Spaniard has been given a reprieve due to his side’s dramatic triumph against the Championship leaders.
There is an argument that Karanka should not be under as much pressure as has been reported, but the 45-year-old has at least brought himself some time to prove that he remains the man to deliver promotion to the Premier League.
Just five points have been recorded from their last half-a-dozen outings at the second tier, although it is a period which has included games against the top two in the standings and fierce rivals Derby County.
That period followed a run of 11 points from five matches and although Forest sit four points adrift of the playoffs, they at least remain firmly in the promotion hunt at a time when the club’s hierarchy will look to strengthen the squad.
The trip to England’s capital to play Chelsea will be regarded as an opportunity rather than a fixture where a result is required at all costs, and that may play into Karanka’s favour.
There will be changes to the starting lineup after such a run of fixtures, but Karanka has already used 25 players in the league this season and he will have confidence in whichever team he selects at the weekend.
Forest have already had success against Premier League opposition this season, with a dramatic 3-2 win being registered over Newcastle United in the second round of the EFL Cup.
The East Midlands outfit received their fair share of luck during the closing stages, but that occasion is one of many this season where they have risen to the occasion in big matches and that could prove to be the case this weekend.
Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking tow make it five wins from five as interim Manchester United boss when his side welcome Reading to Old Trafford today.
The Red Devils get their FA Cup campaign underway in the third round and will be expected to progress with minimum fuss against their Championship opponents.
United have already been knocked out of one cup competition at home to a Championship outfit this season, but there is a completely different air around the club now following Jose Mourinho’s exit last month.
• Today’s meeting will represent the 93rd competitive contest between the two clubs, with Chelsea winning 38 times in comparison to 26 victories for Forest.
• The teams have only squared off on three occasions since the turn of the Millennium, and each game has been played in either the FA Cup or League Cup.
• Chelsea have prevailed in all three encounters, with the most recent victory coming by a 5-1 scoreline in last season’s EFL Cup.
FA Cup Third Round
Bournemouth v Brighton 12:30
Burnley v Barnsley 12:30
Man Utd v Reading 12:30
Sheffield Wed v Luton Town 12:30
Shrewsbury v Stoke City 12:30
West Brom v Wigan Athletic 12:30
West Ham v Birmingham City 12:30
Accrington v Ipswich Town 15:00
Aston Villa v Swansea 15:00
Bolton v Walsall 15:00
Brentford v Oxford United 15:00
Chelsea v Nottingham Forest 15:00
Derby County v Southampton 15:00
Everton v Lincoln City 15:00
Fleetwood v Wimbledon 15:00
Gillingham v Cardiff City 15:00
Middlesbrough v Peterborough 15:00
Blackpool v Arsenal 17:30
Bristol City v Huddersfield 17:30
Crystal Palace v Grimsby Town 17:30
Newcastle v Blackburn 17:30
Norwich City v Portsmouth 17:30
Fulham v Oldham 14:00
Man City v Rotherham 14:00
Millwall v Hull City 14:00
Preston v Doncaster 14:00
QPR v Leeds United 14:00
Sheffield v Barnet 14:00
Woking v Watford 14:00
Newport County v Leicester City 16:30
Wolverhampton v Liverpool 19:45