Chelsea enjoyed a relatively prosperous festive period in football. Following a week-long break, marking the first respite in over a month, they are set to return to action. The West London squad is gearing up to face Preston North End on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup.
Here are three things to look forward to.
1. Team selection.
Chelsea is bracing for two upcoming cup competitions. Following Saturday's match, they have the League Cup semi-final first-leg away fixture against Middlesbrough. These encounters offer manager Mauricio Pochettino an opportunity to experiment with the squad. It becomes an intricate task for Manager Mauricio Pochettino, given the challenges of dealing with a few players contending with injuries and some returning from them.
Preston North End currently sits in the 14th position in the Championship table. Securing a victory at home for the Blues should theoretically be straightforward. However, the home side has a reputation for making tasks challenging. A potential standout in the match could be 20-year-old Alfie Gilchrist, who has shown promise in his brief appearances in Chelsea's previous matches. If Manager Pochettino feels confident, there's a possibility he might grant Ben Chilwell and Carney Chukwuemeka a few minutes from the bench, considering they have resumed full-team training.
2. Squad improvements.
With the matches coming thick and fast in December, significant changes in Chelsea's gameplay were understandably challenging. However, with a week's break, the scenario has shifted. The players had the opportunity to revel in a positive start to the New Year following a win, contributing to a delightful mood within the team. This period allows Manager Pochettino the optimal window to fine-tune and work with the squad before they encounter formidable opponents in the upcoming matches.
Some aspects warrant attention, such as set pieces and build-up play, as Chelsea aims for continued improvement. In recent weeks, the team has demonstrated notable progress when facing opponents deploying a low-block defensive strategy. Expectations are that Preston will adopt a similar defensive stance against the Blues. This match presents Chelsea with an opportunity to fine-tune their ability to overcome challenges posed by teams employing a low defensive block. The relative manageability of these expected challenges from Preston compared to encounters in the Premier League makes it an opportune moment for improvement.
3. The FA Cup presents another opportunity for Chelsea to pursue glory this season.
Pochettino's side has encountered challenges in the Premier League this season, influenced by injuries and some questionable tactics from the Argentine manager. Nevertheless, the West London side's journey in the League Cup has been impressive, securing a spot in the semi-finals with expectations to progress into the final. The tournament offers an opportunity for a trophy and a coveted spot in European competitions for the next season.
The FA Cup is another domestic competition that offers similar opportunities to Chelsea. While the journey ahead is long, all the major teams remain in contention. The luck of the draw could see them avoid facing formidable opponents until later stages, or they might potentially face the holders, Manchester City, in the next round. Regardless, Chelsea's approach should remain positive, carrying the same determined mentality that has proven successful in the League Cup.