It is make or break time for Chelsea's season this week. After the most pathetic title defence in living memory, they are left with the Champions League and the FA Cup as their remaining possible sources of joy and silverware this season.
Tuesday evening, they face Paris Saint-Germain in Paris, in the first leg of the round of 16 tie. Five days later, on Sunday afternoon, they face Manchester City in the FA Cup's fifth round.
Chelsea's season has been nothing short of a disaster so far. The club is closer to relegation than the title fight in the league and suffered an early exit from the Capital One Cup. The miserable results, and a string of controversial episodes, eventually led to the dismissal of Jose Mourinho, and even though caretaker manager Guus Hiddink - to a certain degree - has steadied the ship, few would bet on Chelsea making much impact in either of the two cup competitions.
BECOME A WRITER
Do you have what it takes? Sign up today and send over your 250 word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay3
The West-Londoners however, have on several occasions shown an amazing ability to turn their seasons around under similar circumstances. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, they have put crises and manager firings behind them and gone on to do remarkably well in a host of cup competitions in the last few years.
Indeed, since 2008, Chelsea have played in no less than six finals in big cup competitions under caretaker bosses, winning the Champions League, Europa League and the FA Cup twice after replacing their manager at some point during the season. So much for the conventional wisdom, preaching how long-term planning and stability is what breeds success at a football club.
Article continues below
It will be a demanding task for Chelsea to replicate their former achievements and win a trophy this season, though, as plain old bad luck in the draws have handed them a set of very difficult fixtures. The reward for their group victory in the Champions League was a third meeting, in as many seasons, with the reigning French champions PSG, who off course dumped them out of the competition at the same stage a year ago.
The Parisian moneybags have had a formidable season so far, and have the league title back home in France sewn up already. In last year's meeting at Stamford Bridge, they actually outplayed Chelsea in large periods of the game, even though they went down to ten men after just half an hour.
PSG was subsequently dumped out of the competition by the eventual winners Barcelona. However, as the Qatari-owned club has accumulated experience in Europe's elite tournament, it looks increasingly likely that they soon will make a real impact at the sharp end of the competition, and the French outfit arguably looks an even scarier proposition than last year.
Only five days after the PSG game, Chelsea host Manchester City in the FA Cup's fifth round at Stamford Bridge. The Blues' patchy form will no doubt be a concern for the home fans.
Their chances of beating the Citizens might have been boosted by an unlikely source, though, as the Manchester club are facing a fixture pile-up that could see them field a first eleven with several fringe players.
City face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League round of 16 the following Wednesday, and will be flying from England to the Ukrainian capital the day after the Chelsea game. Four days later they play the Capital One Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley.
The Manchester club has reportedly been in contact with the Football Association and broadcasters BBC in a bid to get the match rescheduled, but their efforts have been to no avail. A frustrated City manager Manuel Pellegrini has even threatened to play a weakened team.
In contrast to their opponents in Sunday's FA Cup game, Chelsea could benefit from the fact their league campaign, in reality, is all but over. Those with a good memory will remember how then-caretaker-manager Roberto Di Matteo put all of his eggs in one basket when Chelsea won the Champions League four years ago – resting key players in league games, and in effect surrendering a top-four finish. The gamble paid off back then, and a sixth place in the league was justified by the triumph at the Allianz Arena.
Guus Hiddink, in comparison, can prioritise the cup competitions without a question being asked, safe in the knowledge that Chelsea have absolutely no chance of making it into the top four. In fact, the only possible avenue into next season's Champions League for Chelsea is to win the competition, and even if that may seem like quite a stretch right now, you never really know with football's very own phoenix.
Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE: http://gms.to/writeforgms