Apparently Jose Mourinho, ever vigilant about lineup leaks when in the vicinity of Iker Casillas, decided to train in England before heading out to Portugal, rather than fly down first and then train at a local venue. This of course may have been a decision based on logistics and ease of arrangements, but it still makes for a decent lead-in and a decent story. And it also means that we have the utmost amount of secrecy to deal with when trying to predict tomorrow's Chelsea lineup.
What we do know is that against Newcastle, Mourinho was specifically displeased with at least half his starting lineup. He claimed he wanted to make at least six changes at half-time, but he couldn't quite decide who to pull off until a few minutes into the second half. Spoilt for choice, in a way... but certainly not in a good way.
Jose: 'To be untouchable you have to be consistent. Right now, we have fantastic players but football is about today, not yesterday.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) September 28, 2015
Asmir Begovic will obviously start. As will Diego Costa, freed from the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Cesc Fabregas was the chosen player at the pre-match press conference that just concluded a few minutes ago; it's tough to imagine him getting dropped. Eden Hazard presumably won't have another baby the night before, so he's bound to be out there, too. Last season, Champions League group stage matches were seen as opportunities to rotate full backs, so Baba Rahman's likely to come in. Willian and Ramires made a tremendous impact on Saturday and should be duly rewarded with starts. Which leaves just three questions, none of which are exactly new.
- Who starts at center back? Kurt Zouma was badly exposed as still far from a finished product on Saturday, but Mourinho kept the faith with him after a similar error against Everton. Gary Cahill has been our most consistent defender, but maybe we're missing a bit of JT's usual organizational skills? Not that the defense looked tremendously organized when Terry had been playing at the start of the season. For me, this decision is an absolute toss-up.
- Who starts at right back? Ivanovic has started three in a row, since getting the rest against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, so maybe go with the fresher, faster Azpilicueta? If Azpilicueta starts, it probably does mean that the Terry-Cahill defensive partnership is restored. I would not expect us to play too much of a high line, and the speed of the full backs should be able to cover for the slower pairing in case of an emergency.
- Who starts in central midfield? With Ramires and Fabregas penciled in, we do have the flexibility of going 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in a few different ways. They can both play in the pivot or push up to the attacking band either as a defensive right winger for the former or a more traditional no.10 in the latter. And unless we're rolling with both of them in the pivot (where there was once Rampard, now there's Rabregas?), we'll need another central midfielder. Matic has been struggling and was one of the players yanked off early against Newcastle, but I still think he'll get the nod over the more specialized Mikel or the younger Loftus-Cheek in what should be our toughest away game in the Champions League group stages.
With that in mind, here's our predicted lineup.
Begovic | Baba, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta | Matic, Fabregas | Hazard, Willian, Ramires | Costa
And here's what the lineup would look like if starting lineups were controlled by a democracy of WAGNH users.
Begovic | Baba, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta | Zouma, Ramires | Hazard, Oscar, Willian | Costa
That certainly would be an interesting setup...