After the disappointment that was Chelsea 1-3 Manchester United last weekend, it's time to move on in a competition we all know and love. It's Carling Cup ahoy, and the Blues have landed Fulham at home in their first match, probably one of the hardest tests a Premier League side will face in round three (ok, Fulham do have it harder). Both teams are expected to field reduced squads, having each played a tough match on Sunday, so it's not really going to be a game jam-packed with the highest quality that west London has to offer. But it should be fun, and we can't ask for much more than that.
The Carling Cup is not of great importance to Chelsea, and hasn't been for some time. Fulham will approach it differently, what with it being one of the few competitions they have any shot at all of winning, but the days have long since passed when the Blues would be scrambling to secure a trophy - any trophy - just to show that they can. Instead, Andre Villas-Boas will be trying to win this one while blooding the youngsters, Arsenal-style:
We also want to win the most amount of trophies possible but we have taken this approach to the Carling Cup to promote the youngsters. That time before there was an aggressive approach to winning the first trophy available.
It is a trophy and for us as a top team it is for us to try to win it. We have enough good players to try to win the trophy and we try first to give opportunities to players that have been used less and opportunities will be given to our youngest players.
-Andre Villas-Boas. Source: ChelseaFC.com.
Villas-Boas also said that he'd be playing all four of Ryan Bertrand, Josh McEachran, Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku, and I'd doubt that anyone who got more than a half at Old Trafford will be starting on Wednesday, excepting possibly Petr Cech. Didier Drogba is available, but you'd imagine that he'd be on the bench, ready to come in for Lukaku once the young Belgian gets tired.
The rest of the team falls into place fairly quickly after that, goalkeeper aside. The centre halves will probably be David Luiz and Alex, unless the manager decides to go with the crazy route and hand a start to 16-year-old Nathaniel Chalobah, and Jose Bosingwa must surely be rested for Paulo Ferreira at right back. Two of the three midfield slots have been taken, and Frank Lampard can fill the last, and Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou should be free to man the wide forward positions.
Chelsea (4-2-1-3): Ross Turnbull; Ryan Bertrand, David Luiz, Alex, Paulo Ferreira; Oriol Romeu, Frank Lampard; Josh McEachran; Florent Malouda, Romelu Lukaku, Salomon Kalou.
Fulham, on the other hand, are dealing with several injury problems at the moment and won't be able to rotate the squad as much as they like. According to Cottagers Confidential, we're unlikely to see any of Simon Davies, Bjorn Helge Riise, Andrew Johnson, Aaron Hughes or Dickson Etuhu, and it doesn't seem likely that Bobby Zamora will be playing either. Former Twente striker Bryan Ruiz will presumably start in Zamora's place, and Martin Jol will do his best to rest as many players as possible, but there are enough injuries to the team that we're still going to see a reasonably strong Cottagers squad, which will, alas, probably include Clint Dempsey and his Amazing Flying Elbows. Hopefully he doesn't try to murder anyone too important.
Despite playing the babies, I'd still expect a win here, because the reserves we are playing are excellent and Fulham even at full strength are hardly spectacular. And I don't know about anyone else, but I'm beyond excited to see McEachran and Romeu make starts. Kickoff is at 7:45 PM GMT (that's 2:45 EST), so come hang out in the game thread. Fun times will be had by all!