Chelsea travel to Leicester City for the third-round of the EFL Cup. Daniel Mcclue and Barrett Rouen break down which battles will make or break the game for the Blues.
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The EPL trophy and the Capital One Cup at Chelsea’s training session before the match against Sydney FC at Stadium Australia Sydney, Australia. Tuesday, 1st June 2015 (Photo: Steve Christo) (Photo by Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)
Chelsea landed an unfortunate draw for the third-round of the EFL Cup, having to visit Premier League champions Leicester City. The two sides do not have EFL Cup glory high on their to-do list. But given the challenges they face in the Premier League, they both might see the EFL Cup as “any silverware is good silverware.”
As Antonio Conte and Claudio Ranieri face off for the first time in England, what are the key clashes running through this mid-week fixture?
Antonio Conte vs. His strange hatred of substitutions
League cup matches are a good chance to rotate the squad and run out under-used players. With the pressure and demands of the Premier League, coaches often have youngsters to whom they have not given as many minutes as they would have liked.
This cup fixture is Antonio Conte’s best opportunity to get some youth players on the pitch, and also experiment with his formation. Although Chelsea must obviously aim to win the match, a secondary objective should be getting Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Michy Batshuayi on the field.
Loftus-Cheek and Batshuayi should start along with some old heads. As the game goes on, hopefully in Chelsea’s favor, Conte should bring on more players from the youth side. To get the most of this, Conte will have to make substitutions earlier than 75 minutes. This is the only way players can get a feel for the game and gather legitimate experience.
He may, though, inexplicably continue to minimize the use of substitutes by waiting as long as possible. In that case, one really must question his commitment to youth development and his plans for the squad beyond any short-term window.
Another man who will 100% be starting against Leicester – because Conte is a clever man – is Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian frontman has not only been a sensation on social media (seriously if you aren’t following him, why?) but also been a lively threat on the pitch. In just 124 minutes of action he has scored 3 goals.
Diego Costa’s form to start the season has kept Batshuayi mostly on the bench. He made only sporadic substitute appearances and a start against Bristol Rovers. Two bad games recently leave Chelsea without a league win since defeating Burnley. In an EFL Cup fixture, Conte should rest and start Batshuayi.
The Foxes have limited depth throughout the team, especially at centre-back. Wes Morgan, Robert Huth and Luis Hernandez provide three strong, powerful options. They represent the biggest test to most foreign strikers coming to England. Batshuayi will have to battle to win balls against them.
The link-up play between the Belgian and his midfielders will be key: pass and move, while someone (Cesc Fabregas) will start to put balls behind the two CBs. Batshuayi’s pace will be necessary to stretch the defence. While he is not yet at a Jamie Vardy-level of speed, it will be good to give Leicester a taste of their own medicine.
COBHAM, ENGLAND – AUGUST 31: Marcos Alonso signs for Chelsea FC at Chelsea Training Ground on August 31, 2016 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Chelsea Football Club/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso vs. Leicester’s Demarai Gray
After the unceremonious debut of one of Chelsea’s deadline day signings, now comes the other’s opportunity. Antonio Conte stated before the Liverpool game that Alonso will get his chance against Leicester.
Leicester should be resting players, not least Riyad Mahrez. Perfect, then, for the Spaniard to start re-adjusting to a country he last played in 3 seasons ago. Versatile, experienced, fantastic hair, beautiful left foot – Alonso should fit in nicely.
Up against him will be Demarai Gray, the man charged with taking over from the rested Mahrez. Gray has only played 73 minutes in the league thus far. Like many back-benchers (ahem, Alonso) the EFL Cup provides a perfect opportunity to spread his wings. The young English prodigy possesses pace to burn, and has a skill or two up his sleeve.
Alonso played at centre-back, left-midfield and left-back at Fiorentina. Antonio Conte needs him to play the latter position against Leicester. The Blues will hope he can be solid in defence (looking at you, Baba) while providing a thrust down the wing. Conte will pray he can put in a performance that restores a semblance of confidence to the defence.
KLAGENFURT, AUSTRIA – JULY 20: Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team’sthird goal during the pre season friendly match between WAC RZ Pellets and Chelsea FC at the Worthersee Stadion on July 20, 2016 in Klagenfurt, Austria. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Nathaniel Chalobah vs. Danny Drinkwater (and the rest of Leicester City)
Nathaniel Nyakie Chalobah! Your time has come, sir.
In the most important, heavily anticipated debut of the game, nay, the year – Chelsea youth prodigy Nathaniel Chalobah steps into the limelight. Powerful strides carry him around the pitch, yet on the turn he could silently slip past a sleeping nun. An eye for a pass? Sure, but he doesn’t even need to be looking.
Chalobah will come in for N’Golo Kante, allowing Matic to drop deep and cover the defence while Chalobah becomes more box-to-box.
Meanwhile, at Leicester, Nampalys Mendy – the man bought to replace the loss of Kante – has yet to overcome an ankle injury (or he’s scared of the #Chalobeast). Danny Drinkwater will retain his place in the side and look to sit deep and spring the counter for the pacey Foxes.
But really it will take a collective effort by the entire Leicester team to contain Chelsea’s next Frank Lampard.
Too much? There’s only one way to find out, over to you Il Sarto – give the man his debut.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 16: N’Golo Kante of Chelsea in action during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on September 16, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
N’Golo Kante vs. His old mates
There will be some extra tackles in the middle of the field for N’Golo Kante against Leicester. If N’Golo Kante starts at his old home he is going to feel a lot of pressure from his former teammates.
As the only one of the title-winning squad to jump ship feelings around the King Power Stadium will be running high. Hopefully everything stays civil and nobody gets injured.
With both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez deciding to stay loyal to whatever was in the water in Leicester last season, there will be a lot of angry stars in Kante’s direction. While Claudio Ranieri hopes Kante gets a “warm welcome,” fans and footballers are fickle bunch.