Jose Mourinho takes his Manchester United side back to former club Chelsea on Monday with a place in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley up for grabs and a score to settle with his old employers.
Mourinho endured a chastening return in October when Chelsea crushed United 4-0, a humiliating blow for the Portuguese at the hands of the club who sacked him for the second time last season.
With Chelsea blazing a trail at the Premier League’s summit and United way off the pace in sixth with a battle to ensure Champions League qualification ahead, the incentive is there for Mourinho to inflict revenge on Antonio Conte’s side.
Whether United will have the tools to land a glove on Chelsea, however, remains to be seen.
A testament to the fantastic job that Conte has done at Stamford Bridge is their 10-point lead at the top, a remarkable turnaround considering they sacked Mourinho 14 months ago with the club hovering above the relegation zone.
When Chelsea beat United in October they were just getting into gear, having embarked on a 13-match winning run that would see them put clear water between themselves and their rivals.
Since that streak was ended by Tottenham Hotspur in January, Chelsea have remained unbeaten with a watertight defence that has conceded just 20 times all season, the joint fewest in the top flight.
United’s hopes of breaching that backline suffered a blow when striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored 26 goals in his first season at the club, was banned for three games for elbowing Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings in their Premier League clash last weekend.
United are also facing a fixture pile-up while Monday’s opponents have no such issues.
With home and away Europa League ties to play against Russian side Rostov, either side of the cup clash, United play three times in eight days. Chelsea, meanwhile, have not kicked a ball since beating West Ham United on Monday and will not play again until next Saturday.
The FA Cup has enjoyed something of a return to form this season, featuring heroic giant-killing acts and a string of minnows defying the odds.
Non-league Lincoln City, the first minor league team to reach the quarter-finals in 103 years, will play on Saturday against 12-times winners Arsenal, who ended the hopes another National League Sutton United in the last round.
With Arsenal licking the wounds from their 10-2 aggregate defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, an almost unthinkable Cup exit at home to Lincoln would crank up the pressure further on manager Arsene Wenger.
Middlesbrough host Manchester City in an all Premier League clash on Saturday and Tottenham Hotspur host third-tier Millwall on Sunday.
Rock-hard Rostov pitch gives Mourinho headache
Mourinho is unhappy with the hard and patchy playing surface being used for his side’s Europa League tie at FC Rostov’s Olimp-2 stadium but the Portuguese has received little sympathy from UEFA over the issue.
United play the Russian side in a Round of 16 first-leg encounter on Thursday, in what will be only the second competitive game at the stadium since the Russian League resumed after a long winter break.
“I just had a quick contact with one gentleman from UEFA when I was looking at the pitch,” Mourinho told reporters ahead of the game.
“And when I told him about my concerns, the gentleman told me the players are insured — if something happens, no problem.
“It’s hard for me to believe we are going to play on that field, if you can call it a field.”
Mourinho, who has Zlatan Ibrahimovic available despite the striker’s three-match domestic ban for violent conduct, and midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after a two-match absence, said the pitch had presented him with a selection dilemma.
“I don’t know which team I will play, I don’t know if Mkhitaryan is going to play,” he added. “I have a lot to think because I was expecting something more playable.”
After the Europa League tie, United return home to face Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Monday.