Undoubtedly, the season long loans of Gael Kakuta and Patrick Van Aanholt to Fulham and Leicester respectively will be good for the development of the youngsters, as they will go from consistently watching from the bench to playing regular minutes in the first team. Hopefully this will give us a better idea of what we have in the youngsters, both of whom appear to be the natural successors to an aging regular in the first team. These two have, however, been dressed on the Chelsea bench regularly this season. With their temporary departures from the squad, this leaves us with a pair of potential holes to fill on the bench. This leads me to ask several different questions about the squad going forward.
First, I'd ask myself who the ideal first choice squad would be based on the players we currently have available (and as of this moment David Luiz is dressing for Benfica's game this afternoon). I think it's likely it would be very similar to Monday's lineup, featuring Petr Cech, Jose Bosingwa, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Ashley Cole, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka, and Didier Drogba. The bench would have one of Ross Turnbull or Henrique Hilario penciled in, leaving six open bench spots to be filled. Chelsea players who seem like obvious choices for these spots would include Paulo Ferreira, Alex, Jeffrey Bruma, Yuri Zhirkov, Ramires, Josh McEachran, Daniel Sturridge, and Salomon Kalou. Most of these guys have dressed regularly for the first team, regardless of how much action they've seen. That's only eight players to fill those six slots, however, and as we certainly know all too well here there are plenty of instances where three or more players are unavailable at any time due to injury or suspension. Even if we sign David Luiz for cover, he's still cup tied to Benfica and only brings us up to three "extra" players when everyone is healthy for Premier League games (and only two for the Champions League).
With David Luiz still a member of Benfica, and Zhirkov, Alex, and Lampard all still injury concerns, we could get a first look at who has impressed Carlo and the coaching staff this weekend. Fabio Borini would seem an obvious choice, but he's been rumored to be on his way to Italy and hasn't even been featuring for the reserves. The one area where we seem to be injury free is in the attack at the moment anyway, so he'd have likely been our third choice bench striker. Milan Lalkovic has been in good form, but he's not returning to training until Saturday (and like Borini, he's an attacker). This leaves us with four likely possibilities.
Nathaniel Chalobah (profiled here) has already dressed for the first team this season, so it appears he's caught the eye of Ancelotti. It's certainly possible that he's dressing this weekend for the FA cup tie, but he sat out the reserve match yesterday so he may be suffering from a slight knock. Aziz Deen-Conteh has been in impressive form lately in the youth and reserve ranks, so it's very possible that if Lampard can't go we get a look at him on the bench. Billy Clifford has been a regular in the reserves for the last several seasons, and he's able to play any of the wide positions. His versatility may get him the nod if there is an open spot on the bench. Connor Clifford (not related) is a central midfielder who just returned to the club from a first half loan. He scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the youth cup last year.
While it's certainly possible that none of these guys are required to dress for Saturday's match, I'd be surprised if we don't get a look at a few of them on the bench before the end of this season. If we suffer an even larger rash of injuries, however, depth could be even more of an issue than it was in the first half of the season. I'm not sure I'd be entirely comfortable if all of these guys were sitting on the bench for any given match. The loans would indicate to me that we are certainly adding a player in January, and it wouldn't surprise me if we added more than one (especially if we send Ferreira to Benfica). Feel free to share any thoughts you have on what these moves mean to the first team below.