Chelsea have plenty of players who do not – and likely will not – factor into the Premier League or Champions League. Antonio Conte will turn to them in the FA Cup opener, which may be an audition for a January loan or transfer for some.
The league is Manchester City’s. At worst, Chelsea should be getting second or third. But that goes on the back burner for now as Antonio Conte’s men begin their battle for the FA Cup.
Last season they made it to the final before harshly falling to rivals Arsenal. Conte knows that the FA Cup is important and will be eager to bring in silverware this season. Norwich of the Championship is first up on the march to glory.
WILLY CABALLERO, Argentina
Caballero has the air of an absolute professional. His minutes have been few, but when called upon he does his job as best he can. With the Champions League heating up and the League Cup close to completion, the Argentine will have to live off the FA Cup and easier draws in it.
Caballero knew this would be his lot when he joined Chelsea and will get the spot between the sticks as the campaign kicks off.
ANTONIO RUDIGER, Germany
These are usually the types of games where Rudiger impresses not with his defense (because Chelsea should be expected to dominate the ball) but because of his passing and his eye for runs from deep.
DAVID LUIZ, Brazil
Luiz’s last match for Chelsea was the away trip to Qarabag in November. That was his first match back after being dropped for Andreas Christensen and injury has kept him out since.
Conte has said time and time again that Luiz is part of the plans. Now that he is fit he should play again and put the rumors of a fight to bed. But he will have a long – and most likely impossible – battle to win his starting role back from Christensen.
GARY CAHILL, England
Either the captain or vice-captain always start. Cesar Azpilicueta has more miles on him at the moment and Cahill has started most cup games against lower opposition.
That trend is likely to continue as he partners with his likely long-term replacement Rudiger and his fellow veteran Luiz, who has already seen himself replaced. Cahill knows the clock is ticking and will do his best to hold on to his time as long as he can.
DAVIDE ZAPPACOSTA, Italy
Victor Moses has been poor in recent weeks and Zappacosta has only slightly improved from his bad run. Both have a point to prove and both are likely aware that Dujon Sterling is earmarked for a sub appearance if the game is going well.
Zappacosta will have a limited amount of time to showcase why he should be a starter. Control of the flanks is paramount, and the Italian will need to be the man for the job.
DANNY DRINKWATER, England
As the lowest of the first team center-midfielders on the totem pole, Drinkwater is going to be most worried about Chelsea signing Ross Barkley. It is still unclear how Conte will use the new Englishman, but Drinkwater will be worried regardless.
His cameos have improved but there has still been little reason to see him as more than a depth or rotation option. His margin for error is small if he wants to break into the strongest XI.
ETHAN AMPADU, Wales
Despite giving youth a lot of chances, Conte still has a bit of a reputation for not trusting them. But Ampadu is something special and it has shown.
At this point, it would be more shocking not to see Ampadu get the start in this match, and that is a testament both for the skill of the young player and the trust the manager has in him. Drinkwater has helped him before and Norwich should be a good test as he continues to develop.
There were strong rumors towards the end of December that a loan was imminent for Kenedy, with Newcastle the likely destination. That rumor has not come to fruition (as it did not at the end of August) so Kenedy could play a role in the FA Cup yet.
That would cup-tie him, which may make him less appealing, but Marcos Alonso needs a rest. If Kenedy does not feature in the 18, expect a loan. For now, though, he is a Chelsea player.
Like Drinkwater, the likes of Willian, Pedro, and Charly Musonda will be worried about the arrival of Barkley and what it means for their playing time. Until it becomes clear where Barkley fits in, all the players he could potentially pip will have to play with a point to prove.
Willian has been doing that for weeks and doing it well, so he probably has the least to worry about at the moment. Expect the Brazilian to pull the strings against a hapless Canaries side.
MICHY BATSHUAYI, Belgium
If Batshuayi does not start this match then he should be loaned or sold immediately. But it also says a lot that he is not a guarantee for it. Alvaro Morata is a good striker in a rut (which happens to even the best strikers in the world from time to time).
It would not be incredibly unusual for Conte to start Morata like he did with Diego Costa last season against Wolves in the FA Cup in search of form. Time will tell if Conte repeats that trick.
Musonda is returning from an injury and his current status is a bit in the air. He may make the bench and come on if things are going well but Pedro will get the start as Conte looks to use the now Plan B 3-4-3 against Norwich.
Pedro has not seen a great deal of the pitch lately and he will need to make good use of the little time available to earn more minutes. Norwich is likely to sit deep and frustrate the Spaniard as he looks for space.