Tonight Chelsea will face off against crosstown rivals Fulham in the first game of the Carling Cup for both sides. Fulham will make the short trip to Stamford Bridge after a good weekend, when they upset Manchester City by crawling back from 2-0 down for a well-deserved draw. Chelsea on the other hand are looking to get back on their winning ways after the tough contest against United on Sunday
The Carling Cup is often the least important competition on the schedule. Sure to have another piece of silverware in the cabinet is nice, but not at the risk of losing players to injuries and fatigue for the more prestigious (and lucrative) titles. For that reason the early rounds of the Carling Cup have been a place for youngsters to find their feet in their first big game.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has already stated his intention of using many of his young summer signings.
"The Carling Cup is an opportunity for us to put our best young talents across and give them experiences in these kinds of situations,'' said Villas-Boas. "For us, it is not a new approach to the competition, because we did it last year. It gives us a very good idea of where we stand regarding the young players that we are trying to bring through.''
With that said, Fulham has never been a gimme win. The youngsters will have to work hard tonight to not only prove their worth, but also get the expected win. Here is my prediction for the starting lineup.
When Cech out injured for a few games, Hilario stepped in and filled the role well. Some will blame him for his midair collision with Ivanovic against Norwich, but he cannot be the only one taking the heat.
The fact remains that the club is extremely fortunate to have a player of his quality backing up Cech. He could very easily find consistent playing time with another club, but chooses to remain loyal to the blues.
He should start today just to give Cech a break. But there is not much in the way of a drop-off as he always answers when called upon. Not to mention the Chelsea defense should have little trouble against an undermanned Fulham side.
I thought going into the season that Paulo Ferreira had a better preseason than Jose Bosingwa. He was active on the ball, getting up nicely into the attack and delivering perfect crosses to the forwards. However, Villas-Boas has thus far made it clear that Bosingwa will be the preferred player at the position.
Ferreira has not featured so far this season. Tonight he has a good chance of getting the start as Chelsea will need some leadership given the amount of youngsters out there. He has been playing the game for many years and reliable defensively as long as the wingers are not able to outrun him. Fulham does not have a player like this.
Given the forwards that will most likely be playing, someone who is a good crosser of the ball will be preferred to someone who will make runs inside on the defense.
Again, the inexperience that will be out there tonight will require a solid back line that will help quell any midfield mistakes. Alex got off to a good start this season, but his calamity against West Brom lost him some respect, it would seem from the eyes of his manager.
He is still a reliable back who would match up very nicely against whatever Fulham throw out there. Martin Jol is well aware that this will be his team’s 15th contest since the opening of the season and has already said that the competition may be outside of the scope of the team. Whoever is played at the forward position should be easy enough for Alex to handle.
Luiz got his first start against Leverkusen about 10 days ago after recovering from injuries. In that debut under Villas-Boas, he picked up right where he left off, making darting runs through the heart of the midfield and scored a much-needed goal.
With that said, he continued to show his liability as a defender. Too often he is beat by getting out of position and letting the forwards behind the line. He also has a tendency to go into tackles way too hard and should see more cards than he actually does. His luck will run out sooner or later.
This is a game where he can really focus on the defensive side of the ball. Chelsea will have plenty of firepower in the way of goals, but cannot concede and give what will be an equally inexperienced Fulham side a break. Should he be mistake-free, there is probably little Fulham can do to create their own goals.
Playing behind Ashley Cole can probably be the most tedious thing in all of the game. The man seems to never get hurt, plays at the top of his game more often than not and is not opposed to having 45-50 appearances in a season. Ryan Bertrand lives with this feeling.
He is a good talent, but the fact that he has been loaned out seven times over his Chelsea career and made only one career appearance for the Blues shows just how difficult it could be when you play behind Cole.
With so many games coming up over the next few months and Cole showing more signs of age than ever before, Bertrand should get the start in which could be their easiest test so far. But he will really need to prove himself as a player so Villas-Boas can feel comfortable putting him in more games.
The more Cole is rested against the big clubs, the better chance Chelsea has in winning titles.
Romeu was one of Villas-Boas' first signings as head of Chelsea. The youngster from the Barcelona academy has apparently impressed in practices as he was subbed into game against Sunderland during a time when the match was still in reach for the opposition.
He currently stands as the third player on the depth chart at that position. With Ramires showing an unbelievable amount of talent and Mikel a tough reliable defender, Romeu’s place seem certain from the moment he signed.
But at only 19 years old, there is no rush to get him out on to the field. He is one of the players that Villas-Boas has signed for the future, a future that looks very bright for the Blues. His start tonight will allow him to play more in his game than he did against Sunderland.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this young season has been the fact that Chelsea youth prodigy Josh McEachran has yet to find any playing time. Many fans who watched the preseason thought he was one of the players that really proved his worth, with his dribbling and passing on the ball and hard work off it.
Villas-Boas has apparently seen different or perhaps the stakes have just been not there yet for the youngster to get an opportunity. Some may wonder if this English-born Lampardesque player is not fully adapting to the system. He likes to play a slow meticulous game and often can drop deep in the midfield and hold the ball.
Whatever the reason, he should get a start tonight. If he wants to get off the bench and begin getting the playing time he did under Ancelotti, all he needs to do is prove his worth against Fulham. With the offensive power that will be up front, he should have no problem finding an assist or two.
No one has had as much influence this season as Ramires. He has been an unreal force in the deep midfield, marauding the opposition with a constant prowl around the ball and winning most 50/50 balls he goes after. His energy never seems to subside and he has become the box-to-box player they were looking for after Essien’s injury.
It may make sense to rest him as he has started in five games thus far and been electric in them. However, the rest against Leverkusen kept him fresh for the United game, which should translate into today’s game. He would most likely be playing on the right side of the midfield and not forced to play the kind of hard running style he has had to.
Should he start at all, it is safe to assume he will probably not go a full 90 minutes.
After coming off a season where he was the team’s top scorer in the league, the French international has found himself having to cope with significant time on the bench. This is not as much due to lack of quality left in him, but more with the fact that his playing style does not really suit what Villas-Boas in trying to do.
Malouda has made a career out of developing plays through a slow and calculated buildup. He is not the fastest winger to ever play the game and does not rely on fancy footwork to beat defenders. He is mostly a static player who will use well-timed runs and intelligent crosses to find his forwards.
He should start tonight as Juan Mata will get a well-deserved rest. With the big forwards up top, his ability to find big targets on crosses will be on display. He could really have a great game, but when it comes back to the other competitions he will more than likely be back on the bench.
The big boy from Belgium will get his first start of the season tonight against Fulham. Villas-Boas has already made that clear and is expecting a great deal from him.
Barring the signing of Mata, this was looked at as the best move he made all offseason. With Drogba now the same age as the manager, you cannot expect him to be around for another four or five years. It is better to find his replacement now while the Ivorian can still help train him than to wait.
Lukaku’s first appearance against Norwich came very late, but it was a good one. He easily shrugged off defenders and looked to overpower them many times. Though unable to get goal, Lukaku was a threat for the dozen minutes or so he was in. After playing not as well against United (out of position, Villas-Boas would add), he can look to get on the bright path again, when he should be facing an inferior side and a defense that he should have little problem with.
Returning for the first time after his horrific crash with Norwich keeper John Ruddy, Drogba will want to get back to his scoring ways as quickly as possible. This may in fact be the easiest side he has ever faced in his eight-year career at Chelsea. Jol has already ruled out a number of defenders.
The biggest worry that Villas-Boas should have is whether or not Drogba will be hesitant on crosses. Odds are that his attitude as a competitior will outweigh any reservations, but it still remains to be seen. Phyiscally this should be a perfect game for him to get back into the swing of things.
This is an important game for Drogba. He must show that he still has what it takes to be one of the best strikers in the world. It is obvious that he was severely missed Sunday at Old Trafford as the manager had little options in the way of attack. With Torres continuing to not be at his best, an insurance policy like Drogba gives them a big boost and never rules them out of a match.
Ross Turnbull: Just as a precaution.
Salomon Kalou: Has not been on the field or bench in some time. This may be the chance to right his poor start.
Daniel Sturridge: If Chelsea needs a goal come late, expect him to make an appearance.
Nicolas Anelka: Could come in to help close out the game.
John Obi Mikel: Should Romeu struggle, Mikel in the insurance policy.
Branislav Ivanovic: Someone else who could come on to help secure the victory.
Juan Mata: Should Chelsea have trouble with the Fulham defense, Mata will be the solution.
How do you think Chelsea will line up tonight?