Chelsea will spend Halloween in Italy as they face Roma. A win virtually guarantees the round of 16, but Antonio Conte will also have an eye towards Manchester United. The squad is slowly approaching full availability, but fatigue will cause Conte to continue to juggle the lineup.
Roma were a tough test before, but the squad learned from it and has gained momentum since. Now the trick is to continue that and return to London with the treat of three points.
GK: THIBAUT COURTOIS,
Courtois helped to keep Chelsea in the match against Bournemouth. He made smart, simple saves that keepers mess up far too often. He was also intelligent with his movement, coming out at all the right times to snuff out attacks. Putting him under pressure is still a solid tactic (but it is for any keeper really), but Bournemouth did not over commit to it. Roma will, especially at home, so Courtois must be ready for a long and involved match.
CB: ANTONIO RUDIGER,
Many fans continue to misinterpret the lineup when it does not include Gary Cahill. Once more, he is rested for bigger matches to come, but there is a view that Rudiger has pipped him as a starter. That is not the truth, yet, but Rudiger did look much more solid against Bournemouth than in previous weeks. He did not make any silly fouls that he seems prone to and was excellent in defense otherwise. His old club will be waiting to see if he has improved.
CB: ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN,
Suddenly Conte is full of options all over the field, and test number one is who to play the center of the back three. In the spirit of Halloween, Luiz has steadily been looking more and more like a mummy. It would not be catastrophic to lose Luiz to injury, but it would be far from ideal. Christensen has been shaky recently, but he is ready to take a game like this on his own. So Luiz gets to gorge himself on candy as the Dane gets to cut out Roma’s offense.
CB: GARY CAHILL,
Cahill was rested for Roma, not dropped as a starter. Of the five center backs, he has actually been the least mistake prone of all. He is still no John Terry, but he is what the club has to work with right now. At some point Cahill will have to face the challenge of Rudiger head on, but for now – with matches coming thick and fast – the captain gets the starts. Whether that continues as Rudiger improves will remain to be seen, but Cahill has always fought off challengers.
WB: CESAR AZPILICUETA,
Conte loves to say that they are going “game by game”. While that is mostly true, it is not entirely true. Conte’s lineups have always hinted at an eye towards matches that are less than a week later. With Victor Moses injured and Davide Zappacosta the only true backup, Conte will make the tough decision to trust Azpilicueta there and save Zappacosta’s legs for Manchester United. Azpilicueta has improved at the spot and Roma will be a test to see his viability there.
CM: CESC FABREGAS,
Michy Batshuayi being the most confusing player at Chelsea is last month’s news. Fabregas being the most confusing player is the new thing. He will stay anonymous for the entire match, but statistically will have been the most creative player. Once all the midfielders are fit, it is hard to see where Fabregas will fit in. He is not a starter, but the stats do not hint at him being useless. Conte will need to determine the best way to deploy the magician.
CM: TIEMOUE BAKAYOKO,
Bakayoko is starting to show signs of fatigue and is failing to fill the N’Golo Kante sized hole more and more. That is not the young Frenchman’s fault. He was thrown in before he was fully ready and was always meant to grow alongside N’Golo Kante, not without him. Kante is close to return and taking the weight of the world off of Bakayoko’s shoulders, but the big man will have to carry it for one more night against Roma.
CM: N’Golo Kante/Danny Drinkwater
There is a hope that N’Golo Kante will be fit for this clash, and if that’s the case, he just slots in the 3-5-2 formation. Otgerwise, Drinkwater will take his place.
WB: MARCOS ALONSO,
This time last year, Alonso was playing decently but questions were being raised in the press that Conte was unhappy with his output. On the sidelines, Conte often directed a vast amount of his instruction to the Spaniard. Alonso came out of it and became sublime, but he seems to have reverted to form. He is not getting into crossing positions as often and is more involved in buildup than attack. The Alex Sandro rumors will not go away if this continues.
Bournemouth decided the best way to stifle Chelsea’s attack was not to man mark Eden Hazard (as many teams have done successfully), but to surround Morata and cut off all passes to him. It worked until Morata was able to find the flick on to a winger who was relatively unmarked. He was not going to score under that type of heat, but it was still a good match for him regardless. The link with Hazard is growing, his fitness is improving, and the best is yet to come.
It was not exactly a masterclass by Eden Hazard against Bournemouth, but he pulled the strings to get the job done. With Morata so heavily marked, all it took was one flick on to the open Hazard for him to find the goal. It is important to remember he is still reaching full fitness, and had he been fully fit he could have torn Bournemouth to shreds. Roma will pay more attention to the Belgian, so hopefully Bournemouth offered a good warm up for him.