Chelsea will be without several suspended players as they make their way to Everton for their fourth-round Carling Cup match (8:00 PM GMT, 3:00 PM EST; Goodison Park). Jose Bosingwa is out. Ashley Cole is out. Didier Drogba is out (and will be for a few more games after that, thanks to that ludicrous two-footed tackle that got him sent off on Sunday). Ramires is out, although he's expected to be back for Arsenal. Fortunately, it's for the Carling Cup game and we probably weren't going to be using any of them anyway. Yep, it's time to play the kids.
Here's Andre Villas-Boas:
On the bigger picture, Arsenal comes up after a Premier League defeat and we need a response, but the Carling Cup is important as well. We have adopted the policy of playing the most amount of youngsters as possible in this competition and we will try to stick to it but our commitment is to try to win the game.
I would be flabbergasted if any of the Chelsea players who were on the field at Loftus Road for ninety minutes (save Petr Cech) were given any time whatsoever. To a man, everyone who played in that match must have been exhausted, and poor David Luiz was somewhere near death when Chris Foy finally ended the match. Assuming that the brave heroes who suffered through that whole affair will not be appearing on Wednesday, that rules out David Luiz, John Terry, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard, and rather necessitates a youth movement.
Josh McEachran and Oriol Romeu are probably certain starters in the midfield, while the back line almost has to feature Ryan Bertrand, Branislav Ivanovic, Alex and Paulo Ferreira. That doesn't leave many spots open, especially if Romelu Lukaku is set to lead the line. Chelsea have to be fairly careful here, because there's a very real risk that they'll be forced to play 120 minutes of football before a Saturday match against Arsenal - committing, say, Fernando Torres to the fray doesn't seem as though it would be particularly wise.
Anyway, mix all that information up and here's what pops out:
The wide forwards are probably the most likely to change - any of Mata, Kalou, Florent Malouda, Danny Sturridge and Nicolas Anelka have a claim for playing time, and I don't think anyone knows who Andre Villas-Boas wants to field on Saturday, especially on the right side where the battle between the goals-and-not-much-else of Sturridge and the intelligent play of Anelka is starting to reach a fever pitch. But anyway, that's my lineup and I'm sticking to it.
We have of course seen Everton recently, having beaten them 3-1 at Stamford Bridge a little over a week ago. Before then, the Toffees were something of a bogey team, but they were dispatched in fairly straightforward fashion after trying to defend deep and being Juan Mata'd. They're probably going to be a different proposition at Goodison Park, however.
Here's a comparison between their lineup against Chelsea and the team they fielded for their Carling Cup match against West Bromwich Albion (which they obviously won):
Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion (4-5-1): Jan Mucha; Leighton Baines, Johnny Heitinga, Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville; Royston Drenthe, Marouane Fellaini, Ross Barkley, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman; Denis Stracqualursi.
Not much overlap there, although the defence is fairly consistent and the presence of both Fellaini and Rodwell in the centre of midfield will solidify things for the hosts. Possible Chelsea target Ross Barkley has started in both of Everton's Carling Cup matches so far this season, so there's a good chance we might see the talented youngster in David Moyes' XI on Wednesday as well.
In general, Everton seem to be rotating their squad less than Chelsea's, although Andre Villas-Boas has better depth to draw from anyway which makes him more able to switch things around. Don't expect an ultra-defensive setup from the Toffees this time, though - they're at home and the Blues will be fielding a much weaker side than last time we met - they're going to have every confidence of getting a result.
I'm feeling the dread of extra-time on this one. Let's call it 1-1 and I have no idea who wins the shootout.