If Chelsea are to salvage anything from their most traumatic season for years then Guus Hiddink will need to preserve his record of never having lost an FA Cup tie when his stuttering team face Everton in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
The 69-year-old Dutchman, in his second spell as interim manager at Stamford Bridge, has overseen six Chelsea victories in his six FA Cup matches, including the 2009 final when they conceded a first-minute goal but still beat Everton 2-1 at Wembley.
He has guided them to this stage with wins over lower-league opponents Scunthorpe United 2-0, Milton Keynes Dons 5-1 and a virtually reserve Manchester City side 5-1 but they face a far tougher match against Everton at Goodison Park.
Hiddink, who leaves Chelsea at the end of the season, saw his side eliminated from the Champions League by Paris St Germain on Wednesday. With them marooned in 10th place in the Premier League table, 20 points behind pace-setters Leicester City, the FA Cup offers their only hope of salvation from a poor campaign.
Brazilian forward Willian told reporters after their 2-1 defeat to PSG on Wednesday: “The coach has a great FA Cup record. If it carries on, we can still end this season with a big victory at Wembley.”
Chelsea, who last season won the Premier League title and the League Cup, travel to Everton waiting on the fitness of striker Diego Costa and captain John Terry and will face an Everton side in the hunt for a first major honour since they won the FA Cup in 1995.
Everton have reached this stage without conceding a goal, and will be looking to bounce back immediately from last week’s crushing 3-2 home defeat to West Ham United when they conceded three times in the final 12 minutes.
The Hammers return to the northwest on Sunday when they visit Manchester United, three days after United’s all-Premier League tie with Liverpool in the Europa League at Anfield.
West Ham ended a run of eight straight defeats at Old Trafford when they drew 0-0 in the league in December and go there full of confidence, one place and two points ahead of United in the table.
“We have nothing to fear,” coach Slaven Bilic said. “We can win the FA Cup, why not?”
Holders Arsenal, bidding to become the first club since Blackburn Rovers in 1886 to win the FA Cup three years in succession, are at home to Premier League rivals Watford, but will be without Aaron Ramsey who injured a thigh in Tuesday’s 4-0 fifth-round replay win at Hull City.
Championship side Reading, who knocked out Premier League West Bromwich Albion in the fifth round, will be seeking another top-flight scalp and a place in the semi-finals for the second successive season when they face out-of-sorts Crystal Palace at home on Friday.