The mounting injury problems in Chelsea’s first team squad could well prove to be a blessing in disguise over the next few weeks. As well as providing opportunities for the returning players – like Bosingwa, who has been out for a year – it should also give the younger players some match time to show that they can play with some of the best players in the league and, more importantly, get their confidence even higher than it must be already. They need to use these opportunities to prove themselves and start people referring to them as ‘good’ players, rather than just promising.
The game at Villa Park, today, was always going to be difficult. Chelsea don’t have many ‘bogey’ teams – we wouldn’t be champions if we had a lot – but our record away against Aston Villa has been very poor in recent years. Since the Abramovich takeover Chelsea have won one game in seven (Hiddink’s first game in charge).
I would say, cautiously at this stage (because I may be proved wrong in a couple of hours), that an influx of youth could be a good way to break this record. Even world-class players like Drogba and Lampard will find it difficult to forget past frustrations at Villa Park, but younger players will not have these memories. I am quietly confident that Chelsea can grab a rare win at Villa today and, I think that, the youthful members of the team – Kakuta and McEachran seem most likely to play roles– may crucial to this.
Putting today’s match aside, it would, obviously, be preferable for some of the senior players to have returned by the midweek game in Moscow; though we could do quite well for the same reasons that I hope they will today.
The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow housed the, arguably, the biggest and cruellest match in recent Chelsea history. The players involved in the Champions League ‘defeat’ to Manchester United will never forget that night and, John Terry in particular, will really want to make amends for the loss. If any of the younger players get the chance to play in this game then they could really flourish. Having all been at the club for a couple of years they will be more than aware of the occasion and should be even more motivated than usual. Again, I would suggest that Kakuta or McEachran could play important roles if Chelsea are to exorcise their ghosts.
Aside from the possibility of being important for the team, let’s not forget what important games these could be in the development of some of our younger players. Villa Park is one of the largest stadiums in the country and has hosted FA Cup Semi-Finals as well as being the home to one of the biggest clubs in the country. As for the Luzhniki Stadium – it’s the biggest stadium in the biggest country in the world and, if involved, the younger players will never have played on such a large stage.
Even if the games, or even the performances, don’t go as happily as I am predicting, it should still prove to be crucial in the development of McEachran and Kakuta – and any other young players that are involved. Now that they have had time for their roles in the last month to sink-in they must realise, now, that they are in this team to play football as part of the team – not just to get the supporters excited about the future prospects of the club.
The expectations on them, to cover some of the best players in the world, may seem daunting but, if they are going to be the world-class footballers that they are expected to be, they should thrive on the pressure and become more than just ‘promising’.