After nearly two months of waiting, the EFL Cup resumes, and Chelsea meet Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge in the quarterfinals.
Victory would advance the Blues to the two-leg semifinals where Arsenal and Manchester City are already waiting, and they would be joined by the winner of Bristol City/Manchester United.
This fixture comes in the middle of a busy period for both Chelsea and Bournemouth. After Wednesday night’s match, both Chelsea and Bournemouth have Premier League fixtures on Saturday. Chelsea travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton in the early kickoff and Bournemouth travel to the Etihad Stadium to face league leaders Manchester City.
Given the fixture congestion, it’s likely that both sides will rotate heavily for Wednesday’s match.
Manager Eddie Howe confirmed Joshua King and Charlie Daniels will miss out Wednesday night after sustaining injuries in their last match against Liverpool and will rotate to a degree in order to avoid further injuries.
Antonio Conte has also suggested changes will be made to his squad. Michy Batshuayi is likely to start up front despite Alvaro Morata being ready to return from injury, and Kenedy is likely to start in place of the suspended Marcos Alonso. Aside from those two changes, Conte didn’t give any further plans as to how he might rotate, but suggested that Ethan Ampadu, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Dujon Sterling may be involved in the matchday squad.
What to expect from Bournemouth:
It’s really tricky to predict what we might see from the Cherries on Wednesday night. Right after the quarterfinal draw in the EFL Cup, Chelsea took on Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, and on that day, Bournemouth lined up with a matching back three and frustrated the Blues, despite eventually losing 1-0.
Just as back then, the Cherries find themselves in a real predicament in the league. After that Chelsea defeat, Bournemouth won back to back games against Newcastle and Huddersfield before drawing away to Swansea City.
Since that time, Bournemouth have just two points from five matches, and with the improvement in teams like Crystal Palace and West Ham, Eddie Howe’s side find themselves in a relegation battle.
There’s a strong likelihood that Eddie Howe will keep as many senior players out of Wednesday’s match as he can. He mentioned in his press conference that he’s concerned about injuries over this busy period, and with his side hovering near the bottom of the league, the EFL Cup is the least of his concerns.
It is sort of a problem of their own making, though. Somewhere between the end of last season and the start of this season, Bournemouth lost their identity. This Bournemouth side look a shadow of last year’s team that on their day were capable of beating teams around them with possession football and could pull off an upset if their opponents took them lightly.
This season, they seem to lack a little bit of spark and a few ideas. They don’t concede a ton of goals, but they don’t score very many either. At the moment, it’s up to the opponent to break down their defence.
If Eddie Howe elects to play a back three, it will be imperative that Chelsea win their individual matchups. Last time, they found it very hard to do so with the absences of N’Golo Kante and Victor Moses. Davide Zappacosta was still being integrated into the team and still doesn’t quite offer the same attacking thrust of Moses, and Kante is, well, Kante.
On Wednesday, both Moses and Kante may be left out again, along with the goal scorer on that day Eden Hazard, so Chelsea will need to find another way through.
What to expect from Chelsea:
Antonio Conte already has to make one forced change. Marcos Alonso’s yellow card against Southampton for time wasting was his fifth of the season, earning him a one-match suspension. It might have been a deliberate ploy to avoid being suspended for Premier League matches over the holiday period, but regardless, it’s the one position that doesn’t have automatic cover.
In place of Alonso, Kenedy will once again be given a chance to play at left wing back and make an impression. He’s been absent due to injury lately, but he’s also nowhere near the level of Alonso, particularly in positional discipline.
Also looking to make an impact and prove his importance to the team is Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi’s been the forgotten man lately and must be considering his place in this Chelsea team.
With Morata missing over the past couple of matches, Batshuayi has had to be content to sit on the bench, as Conte preferred playing the trio of Willian, Pedro, and Hazard in attack. Conte hasn’t appeared to trust Batshuayi to start matches but does see value in him coming off the bench.
Chelsea have been rumoured to be in the market for another striker, and that may happen whether Batshuayi performs well or not. But a good performance against Bournemouth might just convince Conte to keep him beyond January.
Aside from those two changes, the rest of the squad is unknown. With the Premier League title likely out of reach, the EFL Cup does present an opportunity to win a trophy, though the spectre of Manchester City does loom large in the draw for the next round. I would imagine that Conte ends up picking a fairly strong team with most of the changes coming at the back.
Willy Caballero will likely get a start, and Antonio Rudiger will probably start on the left of the three centre backs and Gary Cahill will slide into the middle for Andreas Christensen. Otherwise, the rest of the positions are really up for grabs, and it will depend on how serious Conte is taking this competition.