Jose Mourinho is relishing returning to what he has described as a “special” competition when Chelsea begin their FA Cup campaign with a third round match against Derby County at the iPro Stadium on Sunday. Mourinho’s final trophy during his first spell at Stamford Bridge was the FA Cup in 2007 when Didier Drogba’s extra-time goal handed Chelsea victory over Manchester United in the first final to be played at the new Wembley Stadium. And Mourinho describes that day as one of the highlights of his illustrious career.
“The FA Cup has a special feeling, a special meaning,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official website. “I was lucky to win lots of trophies but to win the FA Cup at Wembley and feel what it means was one of my high moments in my career. I have a good feeling for the competition and the good things this country has in terms of football, we have to keep them.”
Chelsea’s previously stuttering form has picked up in recent weeks, with three straight wins leaving them just two points off the top of the Premier League, in third place. While the Premier League and Champions League are clearly the priorities for Chelsea, Mourinho always placed a high degree of importance on domestic cup competitions in his first spell and appears set to do likewise this time around as he looks to get a first trophy since his return.
Still, the Portuguese is likely to make some changes to his lineup and has just Frank Lampard, Branislav Ivanovic, Ryan Bertrand and long-term absentee Marco van Ginkel unavailable. Michael Essien could well start, Samuel Eto’o or Demba Ba is likely to take the place of Fernando Torres, while Mark Schwarzer could be handed a place in goal, as he was in the League Cup.
While strong favorites to progress, Chelsea will come up against a Derby side who have enjoyed a tremendous run under the charge of Steve McClaren. A 1-0 defeat to Wigan on New Year’s Day was only Derby’s second loss in 14 matches since McClaren took the reins in October. After disappointing spells at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and FC Twente second time around, Mourinho believes that the former England boss belongs at the highest level.
“I am happy to play against Steve and happy to see him back,” he said. “I am happy for his success in Holland. With full respect for the Championship where there are very good managers, I think Steve belongs to a different level, so hopefully he is back to the Premier League soon.”
McClaren will be unable to call upon striker Johnny Russell, who suffered a fractured cheekbone last time out, while key midfielder Craig Bryson is a doubt with a calf injury. Derby completed the loan signing of young Chelsea striker Patrick Banford on Friday, but he won’t be involved on the weekend.
Where to watch: The FA Cup third round encounter will kick off at 9.15 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 1, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.