It is perhaps easier to predict which players will take part in Wednesday's cross-London League Cup match between West Ham United and Chelsea, than it is to predict what sort of shape Chelsea will utilize. The previous two rounds of the League Cup saw Chelsea line up in a 4-2-4, but that was before we discovered the eighth wonder of the world known as the 3-4-3.
So let's just try to figure out who all might play and then maybe we can arrive at a formation.
John Terry looks almost certain to return to the pitch for the first time in six weeks, but since Branislav Ivanovic is injured, at least one of either Gary Cahill or David Luiz will also have to play (or maybe both). As far as the outside backs are concerned, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses should be taking a well deserved rest, which should give Ola Aina a chance to start. Though he obviously can't play on both flanks at the same time.
Ahead of them, in midfield, this would normally be the time for Cesc Fabregas to shine, but he's also injured, which should definitely allow a starting spot for Nathaniel Chalobah, who's risen to prominence in a substitute role in the last few Premier League games. Meanwhile, Oscar, who hasn't played seemingly in ages, is well overdue some minutes, as is a certain Mikel John Obi, Chelsea legend.
In the attacking strata, we have Michy Batshuayi nailed on to start, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek has also seen action in a center forward role. Willian could be looking at a start here with Pedro putting together a couple impactful performances in his absence. Hazard and Costa are sure to sit out.
It is perhaps RLC who's most in danger of not getting a start, especially in light of Conte's words on Wednesday.
"It's important to arrive at the right message. Tomorrow we want to win."
"Then, if I decide to put in the team, in the starting XI some young players, it's only because I trust in these players, not to gift (an appearance)."
"This cup is an important cup for us. (But) this season we have only FA Cup and this cup to see the other players. For this reason tomorrow we can see probably some changes."
-Antonio Conte; source: Independent
Trust is an important word and has often been cited as the reason by previous managers to not play youngsters. Conte does seem to trust Chalobah and Aina, and Batshuayi, who's still pretty young despite his sizable transfer fee.
Conte has shown to be flexible in terms of tactics though he's refrained from changing things up just for the sake of change. But he's rotated heavily for both previous League Cup rounds and since we can probably expect a bit of rotation from the hosts, we can probably safely mix things up as well.
I had been hoping that running through the options on an individual basis would help us arrive at a good prediction, but in the end, it hasn't really helped. But since we seem to have more available options in midfield, perhaps we'll give the 4-4-2/4-2-4 another go and see if we cannot outscore the Hammers? Or perhaps the slightly more sounds three-man midfield look?
Here's my best prediction, with a confidence level of maybe 15%.
Begovic | Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Aina | Chalobah | Pedro, Oscar, Loftus-Cheek, Willian | Batshuayi
Speaking of percentages, the WAGNH's community's preferred lineup is overwhelming in favor of a three-man setup. I could certainly see this happening, but the left wing-back is a dilemma for me with Marcos Alonso the only reasonable option for us at the moment. Not to mention, how we do we fit in all these guys into the same team?
Begovic (81%) | Terry (88%), David Luiz (61%), Azpilicueta (56%) | Alonso (left wing-back, 65%), Aina (right wing-back, 74%) | Oscar (65%), Chalobah (84%), Loftus-Cheek (47%), Willian (83%), Batshuayi (94%)