CHELSEA will have to pick themselves up off the canvas against Crystal Palace this afternoon after being dealt a crushing Champions League knockout blow by Real Madrid.
The Blues came agonisingly close to a sensational European comeback for the ages in the Spanish capital on Tuesday, only for the wily perennial champs to find a way to win.
Thomas Tuchel’s players were devastated upon the final whistle after falling just short of a historic triumph, while surrendering their trophy defence in the process.
Antonio Rudiger screamed into the Madrid sky, while Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech appeared to well up before leaving the pitch.
In the FA Cup, the Blues now have one last chance to avoid a season without a trophy – a prospect that seemed disastrous six months ago. Even if it means beating Liverpool in the final.
If it’s any consolation to Chelsea fans, their outstanding manager has helped his side overcome worse adversity this season.
When the club’s assets were frozen following sanctions placed on Roman Abramovich last month, it would have been easy for the Russian’s beloved Blues to wobble amid talk of potentially empty stadiums, club shops and even pay-packets.
But how did Tuchel respond? By saying all the right things, hitting all the right notes, and inspiring his team to four wins on the spin.
He really is that good.
Even last weekend, Chelsea bounced back from a frankly weird 4-1 home defeat to Brentford, and the first-leg loss to Madrid, by spanking Southampton 6-0 in their own backyard.
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In Crystal Palace, the Blues will face an opponent on the opposite end of the scale to Champions League royalty Madrid.
Wide-eyed and with nothing to lose.
Patrick Vieira has done an extraordinary job with the Eagles in his maiden campaign managing in England, perfectly executing a much-needed rebuild and allowing fans to dream of swashbuckling football and, whisper it quietly, FA Cup glory and the European football that would follow.
Conor Gallagher’s ineligibility to play against his parent club is an almighty blow, but Vieira has shown enough nous to suggest he’ll have a decent plan to cope.
Chelsea may bounce back from mid-week disappointment with a Wembley victory, but it won’t just be handed to them by this season’s new-look Palace team.
They’ll have to show a character befitting their manager and take it for themselves.
Bosses have been sacked at Chelsea for trophyless seasons in the past, such has been the brutal nature of the club’s win at all costs mentality.
But Tuchel has shown that he is the man to lead the West Londoners into a fresh era under new ownership – with today’s FA Cup tie a perfect opportunity to remind watching would-be buyers just what safe hands the club are in, while ensuring that they may not end the season empty-handed after all.