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Nathan Aké set to start against Spurs; Conte to drop Costa?


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Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Some bold news out of Cobham with the late-day media cycle, as Antonio Conte is set to hand Nathan Ake the start on Saturday, while Diego Costa’s place is anything but assured.

Ake, who’s been largely overlooked since being recalled from AFC Bournemouth in January precisely as cover on the left side of defence, will replace Gary Cahill in the starting lineup. It will be the 22-year-old’s 8th start for Chelsea, and 15th appearance overall. Cahill had come down with a bout of gastroenteritis on Tuesday and has not recovered sufficiently.

“Ake deserves to have this chance to play because he is showing me in all this period, always a great commitment.”

“He worked very hard. His behaviour was great, was fantastic and he never said nothing. And don’t forget that Ake was playing every game with Bournemouth and he wanted to come and to stay with us to try to work together and to help us to fight for the title. I think he’s a good player.”

“I think he’s ready to have this opportunity, to have this chance, he deserves this opportunity and I trust him. I have no problem to take this decision.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph

Since the recall, Ake has started just two games, both in the early rounds of the FA Cup. He acquitted himself well enough against Championship sides Brentford and Wolverhampton, though obviously Spurs will be beasts of an entirely different nature. But as Conte says, Ake had emerged as a key player for the Cherries earlier this season, making eight starts in the Premier League (through Bournemouth gave up 3 goals in five of those games, keeping clean sheets in the other three).

The enforced change in defence is just one of at least two changes that Conte’s contemplating for this massive semifinal bout. The other big change could leave the club’s leading goal-scorer on the bench. Costa, as we know all too well, has only scored four goals in 15 appearances in all competitions since the turn of the calendar year.

Head coach Conte has looked at all forward options available to him ahead of Saturday’s clash against Spurs, which include dropping Costa and playing Eden Hazard in the centre or handing a rare chance to Michy Batshuayi.

-source: Telegraph

While we’ve seen the trio of Pedro-Hazard-Willian work well enough a couple times in the league when Costa was unavailable, handing Batshuayi a start would indeed be a bold move. The fact that a league game follows on Tuesday already (at home to Southampton), Conte might be more inclined to make changes for this cup game and keep the squad as fresh as possible for the title race. Conte has already switched up the usual training routine, too, as we search for solutions to ensure that last Sunday’s ghastly performance doesn’t happen again.

“You must have a different approach with your team when you have these games so close. You have to find the right balance and to give the right work. In this case the work is tactical work and not physical work.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Telegraph

Dropping Costa would no doubt turn up the volume on the China rumors as well, though it could elicit the opposite reaction from the player himself, hopefully motivating him to finish the season (and his Chelsea career?) on a positive note.

Either way, tough decisions await Conte in the next 12-18 hours. Good luck!

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