Time: 7:45 PM BST (11:45 AM PST), Wednesday September 22nd.
Location: Stamford Bridge, London.
Preamble: It's time for the League Cup, the only domestic cup that eluded our grasp last season. Basically, the League/Carling Cup is a watered down version of the more prestigious FA Cup, one which many people feel totally entitled to ignore. Chelsea are actually known for playing relatively strong teams in the competition and doing fairly well, but with the club so successful on other fronts winning the smallest trophy on offer is no longer a priority. Instead, the Blues are using their third round tie (they received a bye into the third round as a result of qualifying for European play) to give valuable first-team experience to their vaunted academy products, so we'll see a completely new-look Chelsea taking the field against Newcastle on Wednesday.
Opposition: Newcastle had been Premier League stalwarts for years, even challenging for the title in the mid-late 90s, before dropping into the Championship at the end of the 2008/09 season. After being relegated, the Magpies promptly lit up the lower league, running away with the title and securing automatic promotion by early April. With Chris Hughton at the helm, Newcastle are turning into a team built around smothering the midfield and using young striker Andy Carroll as their spearhead. It's worked on occasion - notably the 6-0 defeat of Aston Villa at St James' Park, but there have been some strange results as well with a home loss to Blackpool and a draw at Wolves representing some crucial dropped points.
Joey Barton and Cheick Tiote are the keys to the team, despite the star power being concentrated in Carroll. If that pairing can be allowed to boss the midfield, Newcastle have a solid foundation to build from and a shield to protect their wobbly defence. Unfortunately for Newcastle, they seem to find a hard pressing style difficult to keep up all match, so against teams who aren't a man down against them in midfield they become less and less effective as the game goes by. The Magpies are currently having to do without veteran goalkeeper Stephen Harper, who was injured in last weekend's action - young Tim Krul will be deployed in the visitor's goal.
Chelsea: Chelsea want to win, of course, but not so badly that Carlo Ancelotti will risk tiring out his preferred starters ahead of this week's clash with Manchester City in league play. A number of youth team/reserve players are expected to start, including goalkeeper Ross Turnbull, defenders Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma, midfielder Josh McEachran, and strikers Daniel Sturridge and Gael Kakuta. Russian left-back Yuri Zhirkov is also expected to start in a match which will see the vast majority of Chelsea's first team rested. We definitely won't be seeing Frank Lampard, who's not 100% fit but expected to return this weekend, but John Terry may make an appearance for 45 minutes or so. Try to catch the game if you can - it'll be an excellent opportunity to see the kids and reservists in action for a full match.
Prediction: Despite Chelsea's easy superiority in the league, I'm feeling a loss here. Newcastle are going to be desperate to win, especially at Stamford Bridge, and I think that passion will end up coming out in what I'd expect to be a pretty brutal match. 3-2 Newcastle, anyone?