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Projected Chelsea lineup against Qarabag: Rotation plans foiled by quartet of injuries

Chelsea FC v Qarabag FK - UEFA Champions League Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Chelsea have undertaken the longest away trip in the club’s Champions League history with a depleted squad, as a quartet of injuries have reduced Antonio Conte’s options in terms of squad selection.

While the Chelsea head coach has continued to hammer on the importance of this game — a win guarantees a spot in the knockout rounds — the Blues did beat Qarabag 6-0 back at the Bridge with a rotated lineup and so despite the Azerbaijani champions’ solid home record, a similar outcome, or at least three points, is the minimum expectation for Conte’s men once again. Alas, with Batshuayi (ankle), Musonda (knee), Kenedy (unspecified muscular problem), and Moses (hamstring) still out, there is not much wiggle room in the lineup, and that’s a bit of a problem with an even tougher game coming up on Saturday, on very short rest (plus long travel) away at Anfield.

[Chelsea are] without Victor Moses, Michy Batshuayi and Charly Musonda for tomorrow’s game, and Kenedy is added to the injured list due to a small muscular problem although he is close to being fit.

Moses is expected back for that game, so Zappacosta can be freely selected tomorrow. On the other flank, we have no such luxury, unless we shoehorn Pedro into that role. We do have young Dujon Sterling (and his brand new 4.5-year contract) in the traveling squad, but he is more of a right-sided player. In central defence, David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger are expected to rotate in, with Azpilicueta probably retaining his usual spot, or possibly getting shoved out to the left for Alonso with Cahill coming in. We have bad memories of the Cahill-DL-Rudiger trio from the last Champions League match however, so maybe we’ll steer clear of that.

As much as the defence is a mystery, the forward line is just as vexing given the absence of Batshuayi. Pedro and Willian have see action to keep other legs fresh, but they surely cannot comprise the front two in a 3-5-2. So maybe back to the 3-4-3, but does Morata have the legs for three games in eight days, especially after playing 90 minutes on Saturday? And is it wise to keep constantly switching the system around?

Putting all that in a magic eight ball and shaking it around gives something along these lines:

Courtois | Rudiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Kante, Drinkwater, Zappacosta | Pedro, Morata, Willian

Fabregas is long overdue some actual rotation and keeping Hazard fresh for Liverpool is of the utmost importance. Kante and Alonso and Azpilicueta are hopefully all iron-legged enough to handle the workload.

The WAGNH community’s preferred lineup is along similar lines, but only because Hazard (58%) is dropped for Fabregas (50%) due to the preference for a 3-5-2 (56%) instead of a 3-4-3 (41%). Willian garnered just 42% of the vote, with Bakayoko (45%), Cahill (48%), and Christensen (43%) all coming close as well.

3-5-2 (56%):
Courtois (76%) | Rudiger (78%), David Luiz (68%), Azpilicueta (70%) | Alonso (63%), Drinkwater (65%), Kante (74%), Fabregas (50%), Zappacosta (91%) | Pedro (59%), Morata (90%)

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