Of Chelsea’s three January signings, the only one we haven’t seen play yet is former AS Roma defender Emerson Palmieri, who theoretically provides the first actual, viable backup (or perhaps even rotation option) for Marcos Alonso at left wing-back.
Alonso, having staying remarkably healthy and consistent, had been taking care of business there for the past 18 months, though even he has begun to show signs of overuse lately, with a minor muscle strain then an ankle injury keeping him out of Chelsea’s last two games. But on Monday, it was once again Davide Zappacosta deputizing for Alonso, and while Zappacosta is an okay player in general, his extreme right-footedness is not ideal for that position.
Conte however is not one to rush new faces into the fray if he can help it, and combined with Emerson’s recent recovery from an ACL tear, it’s only understandable that we’re taking things slow. But after Monday’s win, Conte has more or less confirmed that the new kid on the left block will make his first appearance on Friday against Hull City in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
“For sure Emerson is ready to play from the start. But for sure we want to win.”
The second part of the quote isn’t meant to insinuate that Conte doesn’t think we’ll win with Emerson. Rather, it’s to make clear that the primary goal is to progress in the competition and grow the squad’s confidence ahead of a crucial few weeks that will see Chelsea play Barcelona twice and each of the two Manchesters (both away) once in a five-game stretch.
“First of all, I want to tell you that we want to go through to the next round. We want to try to win this game and then to prepare also our confidence in the right way before the games against Barcelona and then two tough games in the league against United and City.”
That said, both Chelsea and Hull City are expected to rotate heavily, which should give a few youngsters a shot as well, including Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi, neither of whom took part in Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup win over Spurs on Tuesday (2-0). Dujon Sterling did play for the youth, so he’s less likely to be involved this Friday.
“But at the same time I think that my players deserve a chance, players like Ampadu deserve to play.”
-Antonio Conte; source: ChelseaTV via Metro
Monday’s win restored some much needed confidence and good vibes around Stamford Bridge. Do the same on Friday, and we might just feel okay about Barcelona on Tuesday. And then, you never know...