Chelsea’s task against Brighton has not been made any easier with injuries to Danny Drinkwater and Thibaut Courtois adding to an already fairly length absentee list that included Gary Cahill and Cesc Fàbregas (both affected by hamstring injuries) as well as Álvaro Morata and Pedro (both suspended). And while Ross Barkley is finally available, he’s only expected to make the bench.
That leaves four players for five positions in midfield and attack, regardless of whether Conte deploys in a 3-5-2 (3 midfielders, 2 forwards) or a 3-4-3 (2 midfielders, 3 forwards). Those four who Conte has no qualms about starting are N’Golo Kanté, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Eden Hazard, and Willian.
That means somebody else will have to be drafted in, either in midfield or in attack. Conte could start David Luiz (or even Ethan Ampadu) in midfield, but that would leave a forward duo of Willian and Hazard and the one and only time we saw that was against Manchester City at home and that’s not something we should looking to replicate. Such a powerful midfield trio, which worked so well against Spurs at Wembley at the start of the season would presumably also be a bit of an overkill against Brighton and restrict the team overall.
Conte could opt to start 21-year-old Charly Musonda Jr in attack and go with a three-smalls setup, which we have seen work several times before (with Pedro alongside Hazard and Willian). Charly was an unused substitute on the bench midweek in the FA Cup but has never started a Premier League match for Chelsea.
And then there is Michy Batshuayi, whom we’re actively trying to replace in the transfer market, but did play (and score) against Norwich City and would be the most logical replacement for Morata. Conte however still has serious issues trusting the 24-year-old (and probably with good reason, given his inconsistencies and general uselessness outside of goal-poaching).
But he might just have to grin and bear it this Saturday. It would just the third league start for Batshuayi this season — Chelsea have lost both of this previous two (Burnley at home, Palace away).
Caballero | Rüdiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Bakayoko, Kanté, Moses | Hazard, Batshuayi, Willian
The WAGNH community’s preferred lineup survey was conducted before any of these injuries were confirmed, but the overall preference for a 3-4-3 with Batshuayi starting comes through quite strong still.
Courtois (98%) Caballero (2%) | Rüdiger (84%), Christensen (95%), Azpilicueta (96%) | Alonso (95%), Drinkwater (60%) Bakayoko (28%), Kanté (99%), Moses (85%) | Hazard (98%), Batshuayi (72%), Willian (79%)