Antonio Conte says he had a sleepless night Friday, tossing and turning as he tried to figure out who to play against Barcelona in the biggest match of this season. Let’s dive into the issues he’s dealing with before we take a stab at naming the starters.
In defense, there’s a question about whether Antonio Rudiger might be preferred over the less nimble and somewhat worse passer — but more experienced — Gary Cahill. David Luiz is out. At wingback, Marcos Alonso trained on Monday for the first time after missing three matches, so he’s possibly not yet fully fit. We know that Conte likes to ease players back in. We also know he’ll break that personal rule in case of emergency, as he did with Tiémoué Bakayoko against Tottenham at the start of the season, or with Olivier Giroud just the other day.
In midfield there’s a bit of an injury crisis. Bakayoko is out with an ailment no-one has yet explained. Barkley trained Monday for the first time after another hamstring setback, also missing three matches. Ethan Ampadu can’t be an emergency fill-in because rules (he’s not eligible for the Champions League squad per UEFA regulations — he’s not been at the club for the required two years to get the free U18s pass).
At center-forward Alvaro Morata is fit again and coming off of a 20-minute stint against Hull City. But Olivier Giroud has been playing well.
In Monday’s press conference, Conte said he wanted to play the players in the best form. Frankly, that sounds like Giroud and Willian and Hazard up front to me. But with the need to stuff bodies into the midfield so that Chelsea aren’t outnumbered, three attackers seem like a luxury Conte can’t afford. Willian also played the full game on Friday, which would indicate a non-starting role for him on Tuesday.
So, with all of that taken into consideration, here’s a guess at the eleven men who will file out of the tunnel and into the cacophony that should be Stamford Bridge under the floodlights.
Courtois | Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Drinkwater, Kante, Fabregas, Moses | Hazard, Morata
The WAGNH community’s preferred lineup is the more adventurous 3-4-3 proposed above — which certainly makes sense in terms of form — but with Morata getting the nod over Giroud (42%) — which certainly does not. How bold will Conte go? We don’t have to wait too long to find out...
Courtois (94%) | Rudiger (73%), Christensen (95%), Azpilicueta (98%) | Alonso (91%), Kante (99%), Fabregas (87%), Moses (79%) | Hazard (99%), Morata (63%), Willian (66%)