Fan-less Chelsea head for Middlesbrough for FA Cup clash as ‘integrity’ storm rages

March 18 – The FA Cup, the world’s oldest domestic knockout tournament, resumes at the quarterfinal stage this weekend with much of the focus on crisis club Chelsea’s visit to second-tier Middlesbrough.

Chelsea have so far shown little adverse reaction on the pitch to Russian owner Roman Abramovich’s decision to put the club up for sale after being sanctioned by the British government.

But the fallout from the ludicrous request to have the Middlesbrough game played behind closed doors because of the restrictions on Chelsea fans attending matches shows no sign of abating.

Chelsea had sold 650 tickets out of their initial away allocation of 4,620 when the UK government issued a licence which restricted the club from selling tickets after freezing the assets of Abramovich.

They subsequently asked to play the cup game without any fans at all on the basis of “sporting integrity” but the request was withdrawn just hours after being submitted following a widespread backlash and even Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel admits it sent out the wrong message.

“Let me put it like this,” said Tuchel. “We love to play in front of spectators and I don’t think our opponents should suffer from the consequences.”

“It was not the very best idea. Me and the team were not involved in this decision.”

Championship Middlesbrough have already knocked out Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur but it would be an even greater shock if they took Chelsea’s scalp on Saturday.

The three remaining last-eight ties all take place on Sunday. Southampton host Manchester City while Crystal Palace meet Everton and Nottingham Forest  play Liverpool – their first  meeting in the competition since the rescheduled 1989 semi-final which was played at Old Trafford following the Hillsborough stadium disaster  that led to the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.

In one of the two all-Premier League ties, Southampton are bidding to reach the last four of the competition for the third time in five seasons while opponents Manchester City – still on for a domestic double plus the elusive Champions League – are aiming for a fourth semi-final appearance in five years having last won the trophy in 2019.

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