Putting four unanswered goals past Preston North End in the FA Cup would seemingly be the perfect warm-up for a trip to another Championship outfit in Middlesbrough for Chelsea, who ventured to the Riverside at a time where the Boro squad was ravaged by injuries, ineligible players and international call-ups.
The odds were firmly stacked against Michael Carrick’s men in the EFL Cup, but the former Manchester United midfielder unexpectedly got one over the West London giants yet again on Tuesday evening, where the highly-rated Hayden Hackney propelled Middlesbrough to a memorable triumph.
Whether Boro can make lightning strike twice at Stamford Bridge on January 23 remains to be seen, but before Chelsea can dream dreams of revenge and a potential trip to Wembley, a third successive Premier League win is the current priority on Pochettino’s agenda.
Despite ending a forgettable 2023 with back-to-back successes over Crystal Palace and Luton Town – prevailing by one goal on each occasion – Chelsea just cannot sneak into the single figures, as they remain 10th in the standings but with just a three-point disadvantage to make up to Brighton & Hove Albion in seventh.
After winning just three Premier League games at home from January 2023 to November 2023, Chelsea turned their Stamford Bridge fortunes around to take nine points from a possible nine on familiar territory in December, but not since July 2020 have they earned four successive top-flight wins at home.
Similarly, progression to the FA Cup fourth round preceded Fulham’s opening EFL Cup semi-final encounter with Liverpool on Wednesday evening, and having overcome Rotherham United 1-0 in the former tournament, victory by the same scoreline was briefly on the cards at Anfield thanks to a surprise Willian opener.
The Cottagers’ defensive supremacy came to the fore in what remained of the first half, but Liverpool eventually levelled matters midway through the second half thanks to a deflected Curtis Jones strike, before substitutes Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo combined for the latter to fire home the decisive strike.
Despite failing to hold onto a one-goal lead against Liverpool for the second time in two months, Fulham will have at least 90 minutes at Craven Cottage on January 24 to turn the tie on its head, but Silva’s current task at hand is ending an abysmal stretch of away form in the Premier League.
The 13th-placed Cottagers deservedly got the better of Arsenal in their final fixture of 2023, but they have been beaten in each of their last four road matches in the top flight – shipping at least three goals on each occasion – and not since beating Everton on the opening weekend of the season have they come up trumps on rival turf.
Quickfire goals from Mykhaylo Mudryk and Armando Broja proved telling in Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Craven Cottage in October, and it has been 45 years since the Blues were last bested at home by Fulham, who prevailed 2-0 in a Division Two fixture in October