London: The Premier League may be slipping out of their grasp but holders Chelsea are in no mood to relinquish their grip on the FA Cup as the world’s oldest knockout football competition resumes on Saturday.
After a disastrous form slump which has left them trailing Manchester United by 10 points in the league, last season’s double winners Chelsea have sparked into life heading into Saturday’s fourth round tie with Everton.
A 7-0 thumping of Ipswich in the third round was followed by Premier League successes against Blackburn Rovers, which finished 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, and Bolton, who were beaten 4-0 at the Reebok Stadium on Monday.
Chelsea captain John Terry believes the resurgence has been the perfect riposte to critics who have taken aim at the club’s ageing squad.
“Towards the end of last season we showed great experience with the players we have and three months later I read an awful lot of things saying we are all too old,” Terry said.
“But we have players who are 30, 31, 32 and we have the young blood coming through. We have a great mix of players and one thing you can’t take away is the winning mentality,” he added.
“Everton are in and out of form but against the big sides, especially at home, they do tend to raise it so it is going to be a big test for us, but we are certainly up for the fight and we won’t give up.”
Premier League leaders Manchester United meanwhile face Southampton at St Mary’s, with the in-form League One outfit keen to emulate their third round dismissal of Blackpool.
United manager Alex Ferguson however is determined to land the FA Cup this season, a competition his team last won in 2004, and a title that has so far eluded goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who confirmed his retirement this week.
Arsenal, who booked their place in the final of the League Cup this week, will be bolstered by the return from injury of Sebastien Squillaci and Abou Diaby for Sunday’s encounter with Huddersfield at the Emirates.
The Gunners, the only club in English football currently fighting on four fronts -- League, Champions League, FA and League Cup -- are expected to rotate their line-up as they entertain the promotion-chasing League One side.
Premier League representation in the competition will shrink this weekend even if Huddersfield and Southampton fail to score upsets. Several ties feature Premier League sides against each other.
Aston Villa will look to build on their upset of Manchester City last weekend when they face Blackburn at Villa Park, while Bolton will seek to bounce back from defeat to Chelsea when they face Wigan at the Reebok Stadium.
Wolves meanwhile entertain Stoke at Molineux, while Fulham host Tottenham at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
Manchester City face Paul Ince’s League One strugglers Notts County, who surprised Sunderland in the previous round.
“Beating Sunderland was a great moment for me as well as the club,” Ince said. “I wish it had been against someone other than my mate Steve Bruce but it shows I can get a result against a Premier League side.”
The match will also give Ince the opportunity to resume his friendly rivalry with City boss Roberto Mancini, a sparring partner from his days as a midfielder with Inter Milan.
“(Mancini) told me he could remember a game where he got sent off for lunging at me,” Ince said. “I couldn’t recall it. I couldn’t have been winding him up, surely. Not me!
“I’ll share a glass of red wine with him after the game. But I’ve told him he’ll have to bring his own -- we can’t afford it.”
Romantics will be hoping non-league Crawley, conquerors of Derby in the previous round, can add Torquay to their list of Football League victims.
Stevenage, who stunned Newcastle in the third round, will fancy their chances of another upset against Championship side Reading.
Aston Villa v Blackburn, Birmingham v Coventry, Bolton v Wigan, Burnley v Burton, Everton v Chelsea (1230), Sheffield Wednesday v Hereford, Stevenage v Reading, Southampton v Man Utd (1715), Swansea v Leyton Orient (1250), Torquay v Crawley, Watford v Brighton, Wolves v Stoke
Arsenal v Huddersfield (1200), Fulham v Tottenham (1630), Notts County v Man City (1400), West Ham v Nottm Forest (1400)