Chelsea kick off their third competition of the year with a Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. Antonio Conte will minimally rotate to face a team that is over-performing expectations in the Championship.
Antonio Conte will look at the Championship table and decide not to underestimate them, especially on the back of a draw. Chelsea’s youth will have to wait.
GK: WILLY CABALLERO
Chelsea and Conte knew back in January that Asmir Begovic wanted to leave. They were unable to get a replacement in time and had him stay. Begovic got his wish in the summer and Chelsea brought Willy Caballero in for free. He was expected to start against Qarabag but Conte took no chances. So the League Cup may have to be his chance, because if it is not why would Eduardo not be trusted as back up? Why get Caballero at all?
CB: CESAR AZPILICUETA
Realistically, Chelsea has five players for three spots at the back. Against lower-level teams, Jake Clarke-Salter can be added to make it six. But Conte is unlikely to throw him in against an upper-half Championship team. He is likely to make the bench, but Conte’s most trusted man will have to suit up again. Azpilicueta looked much more like himself against Arsenal and all will hope that is a continuing trend.
CB: ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN
David Luiz is banned for the match against Forest as well as the next two Premier League matches, pending any appeal being successful (it will not be). So Christensen will go from deputy to sheriff as he looks to make his mark. Conte trusts the kid, and so far that has been fully repaid. Nottingham will be his warm-up before a difficult run of games where he will be required.
In Gary Cahill’s absence, Rudiger stepped in and performed admirably. He did not do well enough to unseat Cahill, however, and he was extremely shaky in the few minutes he played versus Qarabag. Rudiger has a strong chance of taking a starting role from Cahill, but he needs to continue to capitalize on his few minutes. More of the player he was in the Premier League, less of the player he was in the Champions League.
Zappacosta will be looking to build on his strong debut against Qarabag when he lines up against Forest. Victor Moses started last season strongly, but then became the most expendable player by the end of the season. Zappacosta can help his case by dominating Forest the way he did Qarabag. That is unlikely to get him a start versus Stoke, but it will get him the start versus Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.
With Danny Drinkwater still injured, center midfield is feeling the strain. Fabregas and N’Golo Kante both need a rest, but only one of them is likely to get it. Considering the next opponent is Stoke City and Kante is simply more vital, Fabregas will be the man for Nottingham. He will be tasked with controlling the game and unlocking what is likely to be a stubborn defense. He will get his rest when Chelsea travels to Stoke on the weekend.
Bakayoko should have started against Arsenal, but regardless, he is now the most rested center-mid. That guarantees him a start against Nottingham. He will be tasked with shielding the defense as he allows Fabregas room to create. If the match is going well, he is likely to be subbed off for a Kyle Scott debut. That will help to keep him fresh, because Chelsea will need Bakayoko for the three matches following Nottingham.
Alonso starting is going to come down to Conte not underestimating Nottingham Forest because they are in the Championship. Forest have had a solid start to the season and Conte will take no chances. Kenedy will be named to the bench, but is only likely to see the pitch if all is going well in the second half. Alonso needs the rest, but Kenedy has simply not shown the quality nor has Conte shown any trust.
Pedro’s injury is going to spread the strain on the squad out even further. And of all the youth that have yet to feature, none have the level of experience that Musonda does. Yes, he only had a good six months out of a year at Real Betis. But if he cannot be trusted to start against a Championship team, then questions will (and should) be asked as to why he was kept around and what exactly should be expected from him.
Alvaro Morata had arguably his worst game in blue against Arsenal. It did not help that the referee gave him few fouls and that he had virtually no service. But regardless, he will be earmarked to rest so Batshuayi can get playing time. If Batshuayi performs like he did at the end of the Qarabag match, then Conte may decide to use him against Stoke so Morata can be even fresher for Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.
Conte has hinted that Hazard is ready for a start. Arsenal would have been too much, too soon, but Hazard did look much fitter than before when given a cameo. He is unlikely to go the full 90 against Forest unless things are going wrong, but a start is a positive step. Atletico and City will require full strength lineups, so Hazard may drop to the bench again for Stoke. But the Belgian is almost ready to return and get Chelsea closer to fielding their best XI.