Chelsea will start the defence of their Capital One Cup tonight against League One highfliers Walsall.
Jose Mourinho will likely rotate the squad around despite two recent victories against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Arsenal for his team’s trip up the M40, with two youngsters in particular pushing for debuts. Jamal Blackman may make his Chelsea bow in goal as we may look to rest Asmir Begovic, our first-choice in lieu of the absent Thibaut Courtois.The 21-year-old stopper has played only one other game in professional football – that was in the League Cup last season for Middlesbrough, in their dramatic penalty loss to Liverpool. Blackman saved Raheem Sterling’s effort in the shootout, causing sudden death. He also dispatched his penalty past Simon Mignolet.
Ola Aina might also have his eye on a debut, as the 18-year-old right-back featured in several pre-season games, particularly impressing against Fiorentina. Looking further into left-field, Jay Clarke-Salter, Jay Dasilva and Charlie Colkett may all be around the matchday squad after looking good for the under-21 side thus far. Tammy Abraham, who turns 18 next week, is prolific at youth level – him and Dominic Solanke scoring 71 goals across all age groups last season – and may be a distant shout to play a part with Diego Costa’s three-match ban.
Courtois aside, Costa will be the biggest name missing on the teamsheet for our men as the FA have both charged and banned him in seemingly record timing after his part in the indicent(s) with Arsenal defender Gabriel on Saturday. Interestingly, the Arsenal man has had his card completely overturned, despite kicking Costa. Willian will also be absent, as he bids to recover from an unspecified muscular injury. Papy Djilobodji will be hopeful of making his debut. Ruben Loftus Cheek and Baba Rahman will be aiming to recover their first team spots after impressive displays against Maccabi, only to be dropped for the Arsenal game.
The home side will be heading into this game massive underdogs but will be rightfully brimming with confidence after their best start to a campaign for 15 years. Five wins and two draws from eight games has seen Dean Smith – a man they call the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ in those parts of the Black Country – guide the Saddlers to second in League 1. Tom Bradshaw has scored five goals in nine appearences this season and will likely lead the line for Walsall in their bid to cause a huge upset. Their are two names that Chelsea fans may recognise amongst the likely opposing eleven, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and midfielder Milan Lalkovic both on our books as youngsters and after a nomadic existence in West London have both finally settled at the Bescot.
Walsall are no slouches, and despite being tipped for mid-table solidarity at best this season are proving a surprise package in the third tier, not to mention beating Championship opposition in both Nottingham Forest and Brighton to get this far. Mourinho – perhaps with the 4-2 loss to Bradford in last season’s FA Cup in the back of his mind – may be wary of tinkering too much, but it is hoped that whatever eleven he puts out will perform with professionalism and unseat the Saddlers.