Looking ahead as double winners Chelsea FC kick start their pre-season campaign at Selhurst Park against London rivals Crystal Palace has been an intriguing proposition. With many of the first team squad still away on their holidays following on from a mixed bag of World Cup fortunes, Carlo Ancelotti on the surface only has a 2nd string line up at best to select from. This however only tells half the story.
With several regular first teamers missing the World Cup either through injury or non-qualification of their respective nations, this friendly could see many familiar faces taking to the field. With Petr Cech, Yuri Zhirkov and Alex all fresh from a summer break and John Mikel Obi, having recovered from surgery that kept him away from international duty, they should all be returned to the starting line up on Saturday.
Also, the long awaited return of the imperious Michael Essien is something that I for one will be eagerly anticipating during the day, if indeed as expected he does feature.
In addition to these stars there will be the exciting prospect of watching some of the new squad members promoted from the academy this season with Conor Clifford training with the team and Josh McEachran singled out for special praise from the club on the official website, a fitting reward to a season which saw him not only crowned FA Youth Cup champion but also European Under 19 champion for his efforts with the England set up. Don’t bet against a call up for the undoubtedly talented youngster. Adding to this is the emerging young players at the club: Jeffery Bruma, Fabio Borini, Nemanja Matic and the likeable Sam Hutchinson should all feature for this fixture as should Daniel Sturridge, who is never short of confidence and will want to hit the ground running this term.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the possibility of a first team debut for new summer signing Yossi Benayoun who has been training all week with his new team mates since his move from Liverpool was finalised. Tactically it will be interesting to see where ‘the diamond’ fits into Carlo’s plans for our defence of Premier League and FA Cup titles.
Several players who were sent out on loan last season have also returned to the fold and could be given game time by the manager to try and establish themselves, in particular young left back Ryan Bertrand, who was Reading’s stand out player of last season and also Michael Mancienne, who despite another fantastic showing at Wolves last term, has several question marks over his future in SW6. Franco Di Santo, Scott Sinclair and Jack Cork make up the numbers of returning players.
With the start of the season proper only weeks away the anticipation for all things Chelsea starts to build now and I’m certain that all fans will join me on Saturday in providing the team some thunderous applause and incredibly vocal support.
The hard work starts now. Bring it on!
To have your say on who you think should make up the starting XI for this fixture head over to the CFCnet forums.