Chelsea’s Carling Cup campaign begins tonight with a home tie against near neighbours Fulham. Both sides played opposition from Manchester on Sunday with mixed results; Chelsea lost 3-1 at United while earlier in the day Fulham earned a very credible 2-2 against City. How many players that featured in those two games play again tonight remains to be seen.
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has promised wholesale changes and is expected to fully maximise his squad, with those yet to see much or indeed any playing time so far expected to play. Villas-Boas has already guaranteed starts to four of the club’s youngsters, namely youth products Ryan Bertrand and Josh McEachran as well as summer signings Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu. Salomon Kalou, who started the opening two games of the season but hasn’t played at all since should start, perhaps alongside Ivorian compatriot and fit-again Didier Drogba. In goal Ross Turnbull is likely to deputise for Petr Cech with Hilario out injured. He will be hoping for an improved performance from the equivalent fixture last season when he shipped four in a dramatic home defeat to Newcastle. Unused substitutes from Sunday’s defeat including Florent Malouda and David Luiz could also feature.
Chelsea host Swansea on Saturday before travelling to Valencia next week. With the games starting to come thick and fast Villas-Boas will need to deploy all his expertise in rotation to keep the Blues fighting on three different fronts. Jose Mourinho famously placed a good deal of emphasis on the Carling Cup in his first year in charge and continually employed strong teams. Fulham were beaten on the way to victory in that year’s competition, with goals from Damien Duff and Frank Lampard edging out the Whites in a tightly-fought contest at Craven Cottage. Most of those inside the ground tonight will be expecting a similar outcome, irrespective of the potential inexperience of the home side.
Fulham are yet to win a domestic game this season and currently find themselves in the relegation zone having picked up three points from five games. They have won just one of their last eight in all competitions (a 3-0 home win against Dnipro) but their season did begin at the end of June. Tonight will be their fifteenth competitive game of the season. They did however show impressive resilience in fighting back against the previously unstoppable Manchester City on Sunday, when surely many teams would have capitulated. The result was met with huge cheers from all around Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
Last year’s 3rd round exit was the earliest we have exited the competition since the 2005/06 season, and it is now four full seasons since we won the League Cup. Whilst never exactly a priority for any team these days, the opportunity for a potentially interesting fourth round draw (Aldershot away, anyone?) coupled with a quick opportunity to get back to winning ways following Sunday’s encouraging defeat at Old Trafford should hopefully spur fans and players alike on. Reduced ticket prices haven’t been enough to encourage either set of supporters to sell out, however. Those who have paid will be hoping to see many of the stars of the future on show in an entertaining West London derby.