London – Chelsea will look to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated from two domestic cup competitions in a five-day span when the embattled European champions visit third-tier club Brentford in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday.
The controversy surrounding Eden Hazard's sending-off for kicking a ball boy overshadowed Chelsea's loss to Swansea in the League Cup semifinals on Wednesday, leaving the team with only three opportunities for silverware this season.
With the Premier League title seemingly out of reach and the Europa League resuming next month with many heavyweight teams still involved, interim manager Rafa Benitez will be placing heavy emphasis on the FA Cup this season.
Brentford, which is 44 places below Chelsea in the English league, is one of 10 lower-league sides bidding to upset Premier League opposition in the world's oldest knockout competition this weekend.
“It's 11 vs. 11 but they will naturally underestimate us because it's the European champions against a third-tier side,” said Brentford manager Uwe Rosler, a former Manchester City and East Germany striker. “We must believe in our chance, no matter how small it is. We're going out there to win, not to ask for their shirt.”
Oldham, which is 19th in the 24-team third division, is looking to cause the biggest shock when it hosts seven-time FA Cup winner Liverpool, while Tottenham is also away on Sunday, at second-tier club Leeds.
On Saturday, Brighton will seek to back up its 2-0 win over Newcastle in the third round when the team from the League Championship hosts Arsenal. Everton travels to Bolton, which was relegated from the Premier League last season.
If Benitez is going to mark his turbulent short-term spell at Chelsea with a trophy, his best chance may well be in the FA Cup - a trophy the London club has won four times in the last six seasons.
However, there have been plenty of surprise results in the League Cup this season - fourth-tier Bradford has reached the final - and Chelsea has been inconsistent in recent weeks, culminating in the two-leg loss to Swansea.
“It looked like we were back on course but we have had another blip,” Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech said. “It's clear we need to be more consistent.
“We are still in the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Europa League. Nothing is finished yet. These are trophies that we can still win.”
Benitez will be without Hazard, who is suspended following his much-publicized spat with a ball boy, but is set to give captain John Terry his first start in more than two months. The center back has been on the bench for the last three games as he looks to regain full fitness after a knee injury.
The two Manchester clubs are leading the way in the Premier League and they face matches against rivals from England's top division.
City is at Stoke in a repeat of the 2011 final and United hosts Fulham after a refreshing trip to Qatar for a training camp.
“Working in the sun has been a nice change, especially with the weather in Manchester at this time of year,” United captain Nemanja Vidic said.
The fourth round starts Friday when Aston Villa, a team in freefall in the Premier League and embarrassingly eliminated by Bradford in the League Cup semifinals, visits second-tier club Millwall. – Sapa-AP