Can it happen? Will Macclesfield pull off an FA Cup shock to rank with anything achieved by Yeovil, Hereford or Colchester? Probably not, but on form at least the League Two side ought to start favourites against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge today.
While the champions have drawn their last three the Silkmen have taken 19 points from 21 to climb off the bottom of the League. Nevertheless, they are 89 places behind the Premiership champions and even if Jose Mourinho rests a cluster of stars Chelsea should canter into the fourth round.
The contrast in form has, though, given Mourinho cause to ponder when choosing his team from a squad shorn of the centre-halves John Terry and Khalid Boulahrouz, goalkeepers Carlo Cudicini and Petr Cech, and wingers Arjen Robben and Joe Cole.
"The team may be a bit weak, but it will not be because I gamble, or because I leave people out and give chances to others," said Mourinho. "Macclesfield are a team with confidence and we are going to play with the best team we have."
Macclesfield, who have never been beyond the third round, suffered several serious injuries earlier this season but have no recent ones. That means the man doing the selecting, Paul Ince, is likely to leave himself on the bench. As Ince played for Swindon before becoming Macclesfield manager he was ineligible for his new club until the transfer window opened and is yet to play for them.
Among those who will feature is a man who epitomises the romance of the competition, Matt McNeil. The 30-year-old was playing non-League football for Hyde and working as a van driver 10 months ago. Macclesfield also have ex-Premiership experience in Martin Bullock, a winger who played in the top flight with Barnsley.
Ince, who has overseen Macclesfield's startling ressurection, said: "In a two-horse race you've always got a chance. You look at the way Chelsea have performed in the last three weeks, and that we've hit a bit of form, and you don't know. We're going down there looking to stamp our mark on the game, not to think, 'This is Chelsea, look at Frankie Lampard'.
"We're going there to perform like we have in the last two months. If they've only got one central defender it gives us a chance at set-pieces and you never know."
Ashley Cole agreed. "From free-kicks and corners we look vulnerable and we have to stop that," the Chelsea defender said.Reuse content