Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has warned his players not to let their standards drop as they prepare to begin their League Cup defence away to third-tier Walsall this week.
Chelsea belatedly kickstarted their defence of the Premier League title with a 2-0 win over Arsenal on Saturday, with Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat at home to West Ham United allowing Mourinho’s side to close to within eight points of the summit.
It came after a breezy 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League, but Mourinho knows that his side cannot afford to take risks against Walsall, who are flying high in League One.
“I want to go match after match,” said the Portuguese, whose side beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in last season’s final.
“Walsall is a cup game, a cup that we won and a cup that we don’t want to throw away. We want to try to win. Wednesday is one more difficult match.”
Mourinho will shuffle his pack for Wednesday’s trip to the Bescot Stadium, with captain John Terry expected to return at centre-back after being left on the bench in the stormy win over Arsenal.
Walsall have already eliminated Championship sides Nottingham Forest and Brighton and Hove Albion and are currently second in League One, a point behind Burton Albion, following a 1-1 draw at Peterborough United.
Arsenal have now lost twice in a row, having previously crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, and face an awkward third-round assignment away to local rivals Tottenham.
“It’s not good enough for a club like Arsenal to lose two games in a row,” midfielder Aaron Ramsey told the Arsenal website.
“Hopefully now we can put things right on Wednesday. It will be a feisty game with hopefully some goals in our favour.”
– Sunderland’s daunting week –
Another team looking for a League Cup fillip are City, whose perfect start to the Premier League season was abruptly ended by Saturday’s loss to West Ham.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side travel to Sunderland, the top flight’s bottom club, on Tuesday and record signing Kevin De Bruyne believes City will prevail if they attack the game in the same manner, provided they show a sharper cutting edge.
“We just have to play like we did in the second half, but the only thing we have to do is score goals and then obviously we can win that game,” the Belgian winger told CityTV after scoring his first City goal.
Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth left them at the foot of the table and they face a trip to Manchester United at the weekend, but midfielder Jack Rodwell says they cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves.
“We have got to pick ourselves up now. We have got two big games coming this week,” said the former City midfielder.
“We have no time to dwell, but that is a good thing, really, and we can bounce back as much as we can. Hopefully we will do something good.”
Manchester United, second in the Premier League after winning 3-2 at Southampton on Sunday, enter the competition on Wednesday with a home game against second-tier Ipswich Town, while Liverpool host League Two Carlisle United, the lowest-ranked team left in the competition.
Aston Villa tackle Midlands derby rivals Birmingham City on Tuesday, with in-form pair Leicester City and West Ham facing off at the King Power Stadium and West Bromwich Albion visiting Norwich City in two remaining all-Premier League ties.
Fixtures (1845 GMT unless otherwise stated): Tuesday: Aston Villa v Birmingham, Fulham v Stoke, Hull v Swansea, Leicester v West Ham, Middlesbrough v Wolves, Notts County v Crawley, Preston v Bournemouth, Reading v Everton (1900 GMT), Sunderland v Man City
Wednesday: Crystal Palace v Charlton, Liverpool v Carlisle (1900 GMT), Man Utd v Ipswich (1900 GMT), MK Dons v Southampton, Newcastle v Sheff Wed, Norwich v West Brom, Tottenham v Arsenal, Walsall v Chelsea