Rafael Benitez has warned his Newcastle players Chelsea will be gunning for FA Cup glory having seen their Carabao Cup hopes dissolve in midweek.
The Magpies head to Stamford Bridge for a fourth round tie on Sunday to face a team still smarting from their midweek league Cup semi-final exit at the hands of Arsenal.
With Antonio Conte’s men currently 15 points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City and having been handed a Champions League showdown with Barcelona in the last 16, the FA Cup could now represent their best chance of tangible success this season, and Benitez is fully expecting a backlash.
He said: “It’s a different approach for them. I’m sure that they will consider this the most important competition for them right now.
“Obviously after, they will play another competition, but the league is very difficult for them and they are out of the Carabao Cup, so I think it will be a very strong side in front of us.”
Asked if the FA Cup rather than the league would be Chelsea’s main focus over what remains of the season, the Newcastle boss replied: “One hundred per cent.”
It will be the second time the sides have met in South London this season, with the Magpies having shocked their hosts by taking an early lead through Dwight Gayle’s strike on December 2 only to eventually go down 3-1.
Benitez is under few illusions as to the difficulty of the task ahead of his team, but is hoping they can create a few problems themselves.
He said: “In football, if you are a little bit lucky, you can beat anyone, but you have to do everything right and they have to make mistakes. Hopefully that will be the case.”
Newcastle face Burnley in the league at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening and there is little doubt that game represents a greater priority for the Spaniard as he attempts to avoid an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship.
He has indicated that he will make changes, although will have one eye on the transfer window as he does so with those players who could be moving out over the next few days, among them Massadio Haidara, Henri Saivet and Aleksandar Mitrovic, unlikely to be involved.
Benitez said: “We have to find the balance. We can progress in any competition – in this case the FA Cup – if we have a squad strong enough to compete.”