Barnsley v Chelsea
Thursday 11 February, 20:00
Live on BBC1
Barnsley fresh for big clash
Barnsley are the lowest-ranked team left in the FA Cup, lying 12th in the Championship, and reached the fifth round with home wins over Tranmere of League Two and Championship leaders Norwich.
Valerien Ismael’s squad have had plenty of time to rest and prepare for this clash, having last played on January 30 when they had a goalless draw at Nottingham Forest.
Just as importantly, the Oakwell groundstaff have had a few days to get the pitch playable after last weekend’s game against Derby was called off due to waterlogging.
Ismael has his regular first-teamers available and loan striker Daryl Dike could make his first appearance at some stage.
Chelsea face physical battle
Chelsea have started with three wins and a draw for Thomas Tuchel in the Premier League, elevating them to fifth in the table and back into contention for Champions League qualification.
This is Tuchel’s first taste of English cup competition and his analysis of the opposition will have left him in no doubt of the physical threat posed by Barnsley’s direct style of play.
He may also be aware of Barnsley’s famous quarter-final 1-0 win over Chelsea, then the cup holders, back in 2008 at Oakwell.
Tuchel has plenty of options for his team selection but will be without centre-back Thiago Silva and there are doubts over Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic.
This is the second cup meeting between these sides this season and Chelsea had no problem first time, winning 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in the third round of the EFL Cup. Both clubs have changed manager since then, with Ismael replacing Gerhard Struber and Tuchel taking over from Frank Lampard.
Both clubs put out second-string teams in the EFL Cup and should be stronger now, especially Barnsley given that their fall-off in quality is much steeper than Chelsea’s as they go down their squad. Fielding their regular first-team line-up is the hosts’ best hope of giving Chelsea more of a game this time.
One measure of how Barnsley might fare here is to look at their record against the better teams in the Championship and it doesn’t provide much encouragement.
They have lost seven out of eight against the top six, all to nil. The exception was a 1-0 home win over Watford, who are the worst away side among the top group.
Chelsea have won away in their latest two matches under Tuchel, 1-0 at Tottenham and 2-1 at Sheffield United, and there is every chance they will get back to the strong away form they had for Lampard early in the season.
Their record in the first nine away games in all competitions was W6 D3 L0 but then their form deserted them in December and January, leading to Lampard’s departure.
Tuchel has strengthened the defence, with Chelsea conceding only one goal and allowing just five shots on target in his first four games, and that looks a good platform on which to build.
Chelsea are 1.331/3 to win but many punters will look to improve those odds.
One option is a Chelsea win to nil at 2.26/5, which looks pretty good at odds-against given how tight Tuchel has made them and with Barnsley’s difficulty scoring against the better teams they have faced this season.
Over 2.5 goals is favourite at 1.548/15 but it might all depend on Chelsea if their new-found defensive solidity under Tuchel continues and Barnsley once more struggle to create opportunities against higher-level opponents.
There is some risk in that scenario if Chelsea get in a comfortable position and take their foot off the gas.
Barnsley have had under 2.5 goals in seven of their eight games this season against the Championship top six, but this is a much higher level against a side with Champions League pedigree and it could turn into a mismatch like this season’s EFL Cup meeting.
Since beating Liverpool (2-1) and Chelsea (1-0) en route to reaching the semi-final in 2007-08, Barnsley have lost their last five FA Cup ties against Premier League sides by an aggregate score of 2-15. Chelsea are 2.427/5 off -2 on the Asian handicap to secure a clear-cut win.