Surprisingly, this match is a lot harder to predict in terms of a starting lineup than the one just a few days ago that promised so much change. Thanks in part to several good performances against Maccabi, we and the Chelsea manager are left with the dilemma of having to choose between the established big names (many of whom are underperforming) and the rest of the squad (many of whom played quite well against weaker opposition midweek). That said, I don't think we'll be seeing extraordinary changes from the "usual" lineup.
There are a few decisions that are easy: Begovic in goal, Hazard on the left wing, Costa up front. Fabregas is a near constant, good or bad, so he probably starts. Where he might play is a bit less obvious, but chances are Mourinho restores the tried-n-trusty midfield pair of Matic and Cesc. We will need the big SpiderBeast to rediscover his form if we are to have any hope of achieving consistent success this season, and hopefully that all starts on Saturday. Matic started slowly last season as well and didn't find his top gear until the second Champions League match (and the subsequent home match vs. Arsenal). He will need to move that timetable up a bit. Oscar, if he's ready to go, should get the start just as he did in both games against the Gunners last season.
The three big questions are:
- Where does Ramires play? Having made his return form injury midweek, Big Game Ramires should be ready to inflict his usual brand of running-tackling-annoying shenanigans on Arsene Wenger's side. Mourinho does seem to prefer to deploy Ramires in such big games; he will most likely play right wing given the injuries to Willian and Pedro (who's now been upgraded to doubtful from out). I don't think we'll be seeing one of our youngsters in a starting role unless all three of Oscar and the aforementioned pair miss out.
- Who starts at right back? Branislav Ivanovic of course. Search your feelings, you will know it to be true. It would be tremendously surprising if Mourinho opted for double attacking full backs like against lowly Maccabi, and we should not overlook that while Baba was fun and all, he seemed to be completely lost several times on defense. You might say that's no different than Ivanovic has been all season, but Mourinho will likely opt for experience and the promise of strength and solidity over unfamiliarity and the hope of solidity. He seemed to hint at as much in his press conference.
- Who starts at center back? Remember when we used to be able to pick the back four with our eyes closed? I think Mourinho does, too, and he rolls with the fearsome foursome. Or is it the fearful foursome? I suppose we'll find out. (NB. Cahill would be the top name on our list of center backs right now, is my entirely shocking, to me, personally, guess.)
So, with all that in mind, here's our predicted lineup, which matches Rob's prediction from his opposition analysis.
Begovic | Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic | Matic, Fabregas | Hazard, Oscar, Ramires | Costa
Meanwhile, in the community voting, the following lineup is the preferred choice as of right now.
4-2-3-1/4-3-3 (depending on Fabregas's position):
Begovic | Baba, Cahill, Zouma, Azpilicueta | Matic, Loftus-Cheek | Hazard, Fabregas, Oscar | Costa
Who do you think Mourinho will pick? On this, everything depends.