Photo Source: Belfast Telegraph
As February draws near Chelsea are still battling on four fronts as they compete for the end of season honours. Having secured a Wembley appearance in the Carabao Cup Final by beating a hapless Tottenham team more concerned with a top-four spot, Sunday evening saw Chelsea’s attention turn to the FA Cup.
In a game that saw the much-maligned Willian score his 50th and 51st Chelsea goals, the Blues overcame a stubborn Sheffield Wednesday side somewhat less intense than their supporters. Maurizio Sarri once again played the rotation game and surprisingly gave a start to Callum Hudson-Odoi, who rewarded him with a goal despite the spectre of Bayern Munich’s promises hanging above him.
This Wednesday, it’s back to Premier League action for Sarri’s team as they travel down to the Vitality Stadium to take on AFC Bournemouth. In the reverse fixture back in September Chelsea left it late to secure a 2-0 win. Chelsea hold a slender 3 point lead over Arsenal and Manchester United in the EPL and trail Tottenham by 4 points.
Following the last league game against Arsenal, Sarri very publically let the world know what he thought of his team’s performance. In the two cup games that followed, there was no sign of a player revolt. Looks like life at Cobham and the Bridge is still fun.
Everyone knows the Italian’s preferred starting XI in the Premier League. However, the addition of Gonzalo Higuain, the reemergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and the possibility of Callum Hudson-Odoi having to play, in order to keep him sweet, and the selection is, as ever, tricky.
Goalkeeper – Carabao Cup hero Kepa Arrizabalaga will replace FA Cup stalwart Willy Caballero as Chelsea look to firm up their Premier League top four spot. Having intimidated Eric Dier into firing the ball skywards, Kepa pushed away Lucas Moura’s attempt giving David Luiz the chance of glory with a penalty to spare.
Defence – Cesar Azpilicueta really stepped up to the plate following Sarri’s rant. He reacted well and lead from the front, even if his hard-face is not very convincing. He showed heart and passion and thoroughly deserves the captain’s armband. Against Sheffield Wednesday, Andreas Christensen really staked a claim for a place in the eleven, but it won’t happen. David Luiz will once again team up alongside Antonio Rudiger in the centre of defence. With games coming thick and fast Sarri will have to rotate in the league. With Huddersfield at home upcoming at the weekend, Marcos Alonso will start ahead of Emerson, in what will be perceived as the toughest test midweek.
Midfield – Ethan Ampadu is growing in stature and confidence, as he proved in the FA Cup, but is still a work in progress. Jorginho will dictate play whilst N’golo Kante covers the ground of two men. The third midfield spot has to go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Neither Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic hold a goal threat, RLC has scored three Premier League goals as well as that Europa League hat-trick. The English youngster was close to cementing his place in the team prior to aggravating a back injury against Southampton. Having played 25 minutes against Wednesday, he’ll be good to go again if Sarri backs him.
Attack – A rumbustious FA Cup tie is possibly not the best introduction to English football. Gonzalo Higuain did okay in the circumstances but you have to hope he’ll be better suited to the more refined, less frenetic league games. He may also find linking up with Eden Hazard a preferred option and it will interesting to see how that pans out. There’s much conjecture surrounding the Belgian, but he doesn’t let it affect his play. The transfer tittle-tattle that has accompanied Callum Hudson-Odoi in the last few weeks would unsettle most 18-year-olds, but like Hazard, he’s barely shown it. However, Sarri will find it difficult to not play Willian after his man-of-the-match performance on Sunday but expect CHO to appear somewhere along the way.
Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Rudiger, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Willian, Higuain
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