SUNDERLAND will face the toughest of challenges against Chelsea tonight, says Gus Poyet – even if Jose Mourinho chooses to field a ‘weakened’ side.
The Blues boss has opted to rotate his squad for the different competitions, reserving his very best team for Premier League and Champions League matches.
But Poyet says that when a squad is the size and strength of regular Champions League qualifiers, Chelsea, then the term ‘weakened’ is a relative one.
“I don’t think we are going to face a weak Chelsea,” he said. “I am expecting a very strong side whoever plays, because they have such a strong group of players.
“We can go through them position by position – Cesar Azpilicueta or Ashley Cole? Frank Lampard or Ramires? Michael Essien or John Obi Mikel? Demba Ba or Fernando Torres?
“What do you prefer? Which option is necessarily weaker than the other one?
“No, whichever Chelsea team comes to the Stadium of Light, it will still be a top team. If there are 11 changes, let’s see if we can take advantage but I’m not expecting too many new faces from the weekend in the Chelsea side.”
The two teams meet again less than a fortnight since the Blues triumphed 4-3 at the Stadium of Light in an exciting end-to-end game, in which Eden Hazard (pictured) starred, scoring twice and having an assist for another goal.
It was one of the individual displays of the season – the difference between the two sides on the night – and Poyet joked: “Maybe I can ring Jose up and ask him not to play Eden this time? Would it be better for us if he didn’t play?
“What I would say is that the best thing for me would be if Eden did play and we contained him this time. Regardless of what happens, we will be doing our very best all over the pitch.
“This is a very important game for us and also for me. It’s not like the league, where you might settle for a point against the top teams. It’s a knock-out game which has to be settled on the night and we want to go through.
“It’s a home game, our fans will be right behind us and we want to give them another good night in the cup. Tactically, it’s a case of trying to get that balance right between going for it but also not leaving ourselves exposed against a very good Chelsea side.”
Cash turnstiles will be operating tonight. Turnstiles 5, 6, 7, 8, 35, 37, 51, 52, 53, 54, 61 and 62 will be open from 6.15pm with admission £15 adults, £5 for under 16s and over-65s.