Within just two weeks of being appointed Paris Saint-Germain head coach in January 2021, Mauricio Pochettino won the first major honour of his managerial career, and the Argentine is now just 90 minutes away from collecting an elusive maiden trophy in English football.
After trying and failing to lead Tottenham Hotspur to silverware during a five-season spell, Pochettino could mark his opening campaign at Stamford Bridge with an EFL Cup after Chelsea produced an emphatic comeback to end Middlesbrough’s magical run in the semi-finals.
A 1-0 first-leg loss at the Riverside Stadium proved totally insignificant, as Cole Palmer’s brace, Jonathan Howson’s own goal, Axel Disasi’s strike, Enzo Fernandez’s effort and a closing attempt from Noni Madueke propelled Chelsea to Wembley, where Liverpool or Fulham will stand in their way of supremacy.
Before the Blues faithful can get overly excited about a Wembley sojourn, Pochettino’s men have an FA Cup fourth-round tie to win after they cruised past Preston North End 4-0 in their opening encounter, and it has been nine years since Chelsea were last forced to exit in the fourth round.
Still rebuilding the Stamford Bridge walls, Chelsea’s crushing of Middlesbrough represented the Blues’ seventh home win on the trot across all competitions, and the hosts are also on an eight-game Stamford Bridge winning streak in the FA Cup, but a perpetual knockout specialist will be barking orders from the visiting dugout this week.
While Chelsea left the Riverside Stadium with their tails tucked between the legs, the Lions of Aston Villa let out a mighty roar as they finally wore down the Middlesbrough rearguard in their FA Cup third-round tie, which was on the cusp of going to a replay before fortune favoured Emery’s men.
With 87 minutes gone, a speculative strike from Matty Cash took a wicked deflection off of Emmanuel Latte Lath and crept into the bottom corner of the net, ending a gut-wrenching run of seven successive third-round exits for Aston Villa since they last reached round four in 2015-16.
The narrow success of Boro marked just Villa’s second FA Cup victory since they were beaten black and blue by Arsenal in the 2014-15 final, but the Lions now have an even longer streak to snap on Friday; it has been 24 years since the Lions last won an FA Cup tie away to a fellow top-flight side.
Lady luck may have been on Villa’s side at the Riverside, but Emery’s men cut frustrated figures in a Premier League goalless draw – the Spaniard’s first-ever in the English top flight – with Everton on January 14, denying them the chance to remain on the podium.
Not since 2010 have Chelsea and Villa shared the spoils in a goalless draw, though, and the Lions also clinched back-to-back wins and back-to-back clean sheets over the Blues at Stamford Bridge in 2023, offering hope to the visiting faithful that Emery’s crop can subject the EFL Cup finalists to a rude awakening.