Thanks to John Terry's suspension, Branislav Ivanovic's injury, and a summer transfer window of questionable acquisitions (the ineligible Michael Hector and the on-loan Papy Djilobodji), Chelsea are down to one recognized center back for Wednesday's match at Anfield.
Theoretically, young American Matt Miazga is also a center back, and he would be the logical choice to partner Gary Cahill in the game against Liverpool, but in a similar scenario last time out, Guus Hiddink started John Obi Mikel instead. If that happens again, we riot. (Mikel was, unsurprisingly, not very great even against Bournemouth -- decent positioning and anticipation as one would expect, but exposed for pace and (aerial) strength.)
Even if Hiddink continues to (unreasonably) punish Miazga for his error against Swansea City, there's still Fikayo Tomori to call on. A breakout star this season in the Chelsea U21s, the Canadian youth international has been training with the first-team lately and was not involved in Chelsea U21's penultimate game on Monday. (Fellow Academy standout Jake Clarke-Salter, who made his first-team debut last month, is injured.)
Ivanovic's injury should also mean a start for Azpilicueta at right back and either Baba Rahman or Kenedy at left back. The former came on as a substitute against Sunderland on Saturday, but was particularly bad, even for some of the low standards that he has set at various points this season.
Last time out, Hiddink specifically spoke of keeping it "fair" against Sunderland and not playing the academy kids against a team still taking every game very seriously. That plan didn't quite work out as intended. So against a Liverpool side who are making team selections purely based on the Europa League final coming up in one week, what will constitute a "fair" lineup in Hiddink's mind?
The defense basically picks itself (especially if we don't do something silly like put Mikel back there), but further forward, we have plenty of options. Liverpool will play their first-choice team, mostly (and then rest them over the weekend ahead of Wednesday's final); do we feel obligated to match that? Or do we pull a more Mourinho-esque lineup like in that famous 2-0 win two years ago.
Your guess is as at least as good as mine. I say we rotate, though not nearly deep enough to get the kids out there from the start.
Courtois | Baba, Cahill, Miazga, Azpilicueta | Mikel, Fabregas | Kenedy, Oscar, Pedro | Pato
I'd love to see more of our own kids play of course -- Tammy Abraham and Kasey Palmer are part of the traveling squad as well, in addition to the usual suspects of RLC, Kenedy, Traore -- and the WAGNH community is thinking along similar lines.
Courtois | Baba, Cahill, Miazga, Azpilicueta | Matic, Fabregas | Kenedy, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard | Costa
With Costa having since been ruled out, the next two highest vote-getters were Willian and Bertrand Traore. Substitute one of them in as you see fit.