Thanks to missing the registration deadline for Chelsea’s original third round match against Norwich City in the FA Cup by about five hours, Ross Barkley was also ineligible for Wednesday’s replay, which thankfully Chelsea won after an extra 30 minutes and a penalty kick shootout.
Having thus been prevented from making his debut, Barkley is now set to do so on Saturday as Chelsea take on Brighton at the Amex.
Conte says Ross Barkley is in a good physical condition. Yesterday he played 70 minutes in a friendly game at Cobham, and he will be in the squad for the trip to Brighton.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 19, 2018
Whether that means a start or just a substitute appearance remains to be seen, though chances are it will be the latter considering that Barkley played 70 minutes against Queen’s Park Rangers reserves in a closed-door friendly on Thursday.
“I don’t know if during the game I will decide to give him the chance to play a part of the game or if I want to wait.”
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
But while Barkley is close to full fitness, other players are not. Both Gary Cahill and midfielder Cesc Fàbregas remain out with hamstring injuries that were barely deemed worth mentioning earlier, while a “couple” more mystery players are facing fitness tests ahead of the game.
Conte says Cahill and Fabregas are out of tomorrow's game, and another couple of situations need to be checked before kick-off.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 19, 2018
Cesc and Cahill are both big absences, especially when combined with the suspensions of Álvaro Morata and Pedro.
After the last game, Conte spoke in no uncertain terms of his disappointment about those two suspensions, leveling his criticsms at both the players (Pedro for diving and Morata for letting emotions get to him again) and at the refereeing crew (including the VAR), who made a big mistake with the Willian call. Conte repeated this assessment in today’s pre-match press conference as well.
“I have watched the three situations against Norwich and the Willian situation was very clear, a big mistake. Morata I think there is a foul and then you can decide whether there is a penalty or not, but there is a contact and there is not only diving. For Pedro we have to be honest and accept he is diving. The player is intelligent to understand his mistake.”
“For Morata there was frustration for the first yellow card because the player did not deserve this yellow card, but at the same time he must learn to control himself because the second yellow card was for dissent. I agree with the player on the first yellow card and I do not agree on the second.”
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
Even the referee’s association has since agreed that a mistake was made, for whatever’s that worth (very little). One thing is clear, VAR implementation needs serious improvement before getting deployed full-time.
PGMOL not blaming Mike Jones for missed pen with VAR last night. Looked at the wrong angle when consulting Graham Scott. Described as a "flaw in the process".— Ian Dennis (@Iandennisbbc) January 18, 2018
What’s done is done however and we move on. Yellow cards cannot be appealed as per FA rules, and by the time any appeal would’ve been addressed, the suspensions will have been served anyway.
So a slightly weakened squad take on Brighton, who are rather solid defensively. Chelsea have struggled to score — just 1 goal in the last 4 games — but perhaps Batshuayi’s goal and the subsequent shootout perfection has snapped the team out of that finishing funk.
Conte says Brighton were solid defensively in the Boxing Day game and are well organised by 'a really good coach'. He says it won't be an easy game and we must be ready.— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 19, 2018
Work hard. Pay great attention. Three points. Forza!
“For sure we want to try to get three points in every game. In the last period we drew many times and at same time there is a good aspect because we are unbeaten for 11 games, but for sure we want to get three points and as you know very well, you have to score to win the game. In the last couple of weeks we were also a bit unlucky but at the same time, we were not so accurate in our finishing.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC