Chelsea welcome Sporting Club de Portugal (better known as Sporting Lisbon) to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (2:45 PM EST) in what is their sixth and final game of this season’s Champions League group stage.
Chelsea are coming off their first loss of the season, suffered at the hands of Newcastle. It was the clubs second poor performance in as many trips to the Northeast of England. Less than two weeks ago they drew 0-0 with Sunderland, Newcastle’s cross town rival. Perhaps it was the lengthy trip (Newcastle is the longest trip the London based club makes for the Premier League) that did them in, or the absence of their midfield general, Nemanja Matic.
The more likely reason for their languid performance was the fact that Chelsea’s starting eleven has been the most overworked in the Premier League to start this season. Manager, Jose Mourinho, has started 6 players in all 15 matches, while another 5 have started in at least 10. Though, consistency is a large reason why they sit three points adrift of Manchester City as Premier League leaders, it may have been the cause of their defeat against Newcastle.
Mourinho is regarded as one of the best managers in the world and to suggest he has misused his team in recent weeks would not be fair. It is possible that his plan was to every week, field the same players, what he sees as his best 11, until it failed. Though unlikely, it is also not completely implausible to think that Mourinho was fielding the same team and using the same tactics with the idea that a loss now would benefit them in the long term.
Either way, the loss came and surely Mourinho will now introduce rotation and fresh tactics into his team. With Chelsea already having secured top spot in their group, Wednesday’s Champions League fixture is a perfect time to do so.
Mourinho reiterated this week just how important backup keeper, Petr Cech, is to the team.
“The most important thing is what he brings to the team on the pitch, which is top quality,” Mourinho Said. “Obviously he wants to play, which is why sometimes I make him play. I have to feed the natural ambition of somebody who feels he is a top goalkeeper.”
His comments would suggest Cech will get the start.
Three of Chelsea’s ever presents in the League this season have been defenders (Gary Cahill, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic). However, Mourinho has not been hesitant to insert others into the backline in the Champions League. Filipe Luis and Kurt Zouma have both seen significant time.
Luis is the replacement for left-back, Cesar Azpilicueta, while Zouma has replaced either Terry or Cahill. Zouma truly benefits if he is playing with and learning from one of the senior central defenders and thus it is unlikely both Terry and Cahill will be rested.
18-year-old Andreas Christensen made his only appearance against Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup back in October. Christensen’s passing was accurate and the natural centerback impressed both defensively and going forward. Look for him to get his second start on Wednesday.
It was no coincidence that the absence of Nemanja Matic played a role in Chelsea’s defeat to Newcastle. While his replacement, John Obi Mikel, is more than capable defensively, Mikel lacks the vision that makes Matic so important. With Matic having missed Saturday’s game it is entirely possible he will come back into the squad to get 90 minutes in before the weekend.
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Oscar have been brilliant this season, but some of that pace and movement, which makes the three so dangerous has been lacking in recent games. Fabregas, especially, was seen walking around for large portions of the game against Newcastle.
When the midfield tires, Chelsea attack becomes one-dimensional. The plan seems to be to get the ball to Hazard and watch him run through the defenders, hoping he will create a moment of magic. The problem is not that Hazard isn’t capable of such play, it is that with the other midfield players standing around opposing teams can send multiple defenders to stop Hazard without worrying about deep lying runs invading their box.
With the possibility of all three being rested, it paves the way for Muhammad Salah, Andre Schurrle and Ramires. Furthermore, we could see the 19-year-old Nathan Ake lineup alongside Matic in a defensive role.
A number of Chelsea’s teenagers could also feature off the bench. Lewis Baker made his debut last season in the FA cup, and has been a standup with the Under 21s. Games like these are the perfect time for the 19-year-old to play with the senior team. Jeremie Boga is another youngster who could make his season debut.
Mourinho is unhappy with Diego Costa in recent weeks, saying that the striker needs to improve his fitness. However, It is unknown whether Mourinho wants to striker to use game time or training to do so. The most likely scenario is that Loic Remy starts. The Frenchman has scored thrice in 3 starts and 6 substitute appearances in all competitions this season.
17-year-old Dominic Solanke made his Chelsea debut against Maribor earlier this season, coming on for Oscar in the 73rd minute. Solanke scored 20 in 25 for the U-18s last season and has been playing well with the U-21s this year. Look for him to be on the bench against Sporting Lisbon.
Via – Lineup Builder