Two weeks without proper club football has not made any of the decisions facing Jose Mourinho ahead of tomorrow's match any easier. If anything, they made them a bit harder, as no one has really stood out.
"What I analysed in this period was that no player was better in the national team than they are with us, so it's not their habitat which is making them play better or worse. At this moment they are what they are, which gives me total confidence that it will be here that we will improve them and they will go back to their normality."
Which would hint at the tried and true, the same old-same old from Mourinho against Villa, right? Will the real Chelsea title winners please stand up? Well, not so fast, at least in a couple regards.
What we can be sure of are starts for Asmir Begovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Young Loftus-Cheek was already penciled into the starting lineup following the Southampton loss, and at least so far, Mourinho has not gone back on his word.
"Ruben has been with us since January, working with us every day, having the opportunity to play some matches, having an evolution physically, mentally, tactically. I think he's going to be a really top player. He's ready."
Of the three starts that RLC has made this season, including the pre-season, two have come alongside John Obi Mikel, and one, in the Champions League, alongside Cesc Fabregas. With Nemanja Matic out of form and in the doghouse -- though not permanently -- and Cesc carrying a somewhat undroppable status, it is he who's likely to start alongside the teenager. Fabregas could of course push up to the no.10 spot, which would open another spot in central midfield for someone like Ramires, who had been training with the squad throughout the last two weeks. Ramires could also start at the right back instead of the injured Branislav Ivanovic, but that seems a fairly far-fetched option.
"I have four solutions: I have Azpilicueta, I have the adaptation of Zouma or Ramires and I have Ola Aina, an 18-year-old who has never played a Premier League game but he's a boy with lots of potential. He's also an option."
With Baba Rahman unlikely to start in the Premier League (though I have hopes of seeing him in the Champions League in Kiev), it's quite likely that true to rumors, Kurt Zouma will deputize for our much maligned right back. That's assuming Gary Cahill isn't suffering any ill effects of his apparently problematic back.
Zouma probably won't offer too much going forward, which I think might weigh in favor of a start for Pedro on the right wing, but Willian's got the goal-scoring touch lately and that should be enough to guarantee him a start as well. This might leave Oscar out on the bench, but I wouldn't really be surprised by any combination of our attacking midfielders at this point as we search for answers.
With that in mind, here's our predicted lineup:
Begovic | Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Zouma | Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas | Hazard, Willian, Pedro | Costa
In the community voting, you guys selected the following starting XI:
Begovic | Baba, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta | Loftus-Cheek, Matic/Fabregas (too close to call) | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa
Which wouldn't be a bad prediction, had Mourinho hinted at any sort of action for Baba. But he hasn't. So, I suppose we'll have to wait and see.