Should we remain in the league cup after tonight’s match, with the champions league and premier league fixtures we will effectively be facing two games a week until the middle of December. This will be a test for the strength in depth of our squad, particularly as we are currently picking up a lot of injuries. We lost Christensen and Emerson to injury during Sundays home loss to Liverpool, and with Rudiger not yet fit this will restrict options in our backline should they not return to fitness quickly. It has been confirmed that Emerson will be out of action until after the next international break, roughly three weeks. This will mean Marcus Alonso should get a run of matches in the starting line up at left back.
Tonight’s match does however see the eagerly awaited return of two players from injury, as Callum Hudson-Odoi is set to return from his Achilles tendon injury sustained at the back end of last season, and Reece James is set for his first team debut. After an exceptional season on loan at Wigan Athletic last season there has been much hype surrounding his first team opportunities this season. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek still to return, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in the not too distant future we could see a Chelsea starting eleven with 7 genuine home grown youngsters holding down first team places. That would have been unthinkable only a year ago. The seventh in case you are counting, is Andreas Christensen, who despite being Danish, has come through the under 18’s and under 23’s, featuring in FA youth cup winning teams.
Lampard returned to 4-3-3 to counteract Liverpool on Sunday, whether this shape will be retained tonight is a good question. Despite injuries, we could still accommodate three centre backs if Azpilicueta moved to the centre, with James playing as right wing back as he did at Wigan at times last season. James himself is also capable of playing centre back, as he did with the youth team and development squad.
Grimsby have been using a 4-3-3 system, so Lampard may decide to retain the shape and back us man for man to have the quality to see off the visitors.
It has been a mixed bag of results lately for our visitors to the Bridge tonight. They won their last league outing at home to Macclesfield 1-0 at the weekend. That was proceeded by a defeat at Salford by the same score line. Prior to that they came back from 2-0 down to snatch a point at Oldham with two goals in the last ten minutes. Forward James Hanson was among the goals then, as he was when they demolished Port Vale 5-2 the weekend before the Oldham comeback. He has also picked up assists this season; so will need to be marshalled accordingly by our central defenders. Grimsby are currently two points and two places away from the play-off positions in league 2, lying ninth on fifteen points, Three clear of Macclesfield Town who they overcame in the previous round on penalties to set up tonight’s fixture, who lie fifteenth in league 2. That shows you just how tight the division is after 10 match days.
Frank Lampard has stated he wants to challenge for the league cup, but also intends to use it as an opportunity to give some youngsters a chance. With our fixture list and injury worries, it is without question necessary to rotate for this fixture anyway. We play Brighton on Saturday at home, before travelling to Lille next week for a champions league fixture that really we need to get something from if we hope to progress. So who else could feature tonight? Well both Giroud and Batshuayi have been short on match time due to the form of Abraham, so expect one of those two to play up front, likely Bastshuayi who came on for the last fifteen on Sunday. Pulisic is also due a run out, so, he and Hudson-Odoi will likely flank the Belgian. Injuries to defenders leave the options there reduced. A likely back four could be James, Zouma, Tomori and Alonso. Of youngsters who could make the squad, perhaps Marc Guehi will feature on the bench. In midfield Barkley will likely start, expect Billy Gilmour to either make the starting line up or the bench, he came on as a sub against Sheffield United. Two of Kante, Mount, Kovacic or Jorginho will likely be rested ahead of the weekend.
The two sides have met on 43 previous occasions, dating back to our first ever season of football, when we ran out 2-0 winners in December of 1905 in division two. Grimsby have held their own in a pretty even head to head so far, winning fourteen matches to our twenty-one. The last meeting was an FA Cup fifth round replay in 1996 at the Bridge where we ran out 4-1 victors with goals from Duberry, Spencer, Peacock and Hughes after drawing 0-0 first time out at Blundell park. This will be the first league cup meeting between the teams, with the only other cup fixture being an FA Cup 6th round tie in 1939. After seeing off London rivals Arsenal and Fulham in rounds three and four, we took two replays to get past Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth, but then lost at home in the quarter finals to a Fred Crack strike for Grimbsy. The Mariners succumbed to Wolves 5-0 in the Old Trafford Semi final though, who then got beat 4-1 in the final by Portsmouth in the last Cup final before the war. Chelsea stayed in the top flight by one point that season, while Grimbsy finished a respectable tenth, above the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. How times have changed.