When you think of the Carling Cup, you typically think of young emerging footballers getting their first taste of the game at professional level. That attitude towards the English League Cup has become more prevalent in recent years, perhaps not least because of Arsenal’s penchant for utilising a vast number of Reserve and Under 18 players in this competition. For whatever reason, Chelsea haven’t decided to go down that path, but as a result have reached the final three times in five Roman Abramovich years.
With another new manager this year in Luis Felipe Scolari, the philosophy may change. In the victory over Portsmouth in the last round, none of the premiere youngsters started, but the subs bench featured Franco Di Santo, Michael Mancienne, Scott Sinclair and Miroslav Stoch. The 4th round draw gave the Blues a home tie with Burnley in just over a week’s time, so this Monday’s Reserve clash with Stoke City at Brentford’s Griffin Park could be the big audition some of the standout Reserves have been looking for in order to make the next step.
Leading the way is Stoch. In addition to his place on the bench at Portsmouth, he has also sat alongside the stars in the league at Middlesbrough, and twice in the Champions League against CFR Cluj and Roma. He was sensational in a 4-0 friendly victory over Reserve League Champions Liverpool, cutting them to pieces for two early goals and involvement in another, and was in similarly imperious form against AC Milan in another prestige friendly.
After the Liverpool performance, Reserve manager Brendan Rodgers and Head of Youth Development Frank Arnesen both expressed their belief that Miro would be featuring for the first team sooner rather than later. Wit the Burnley tie on the horizon, signs point towards an involvement for the Slovakian Under 21 international. It is, however, important not to get hopes exceptionally high about this and remember the club’s philosophy on the competition in recent years.
Nonetheless, a strong showing from Stoch against Stoke would do him no harm whatsoever. It would also help the Blues bounce back from their first defeat of the campaign last time out, a 0-1 reverse against a very talented young Aston Villa side currently leading the way in the Southern table. Chelsea that night fielded a more inexperienced team than usual, including first years Jeffrey Bruma and Frank Nouble. With Michael Mancienne joining the crop of youngsters out on loan and Carl Magnay serving a suspension, a similar look could be in place on Monday.
Rodgers will however be able to welcome back Stoch and Rhys Taylor after international duty saw their absence last time out, and will be able to use Scott Sinclair, as he isn’t registered with the Champions League squad. With Magnay banned and Patrick van Aanholt likely still missing through injury, Sam Hutchinson may defer to a position he has played before. Ben Gordon may also have the chance to step up after only being used as a substitute for the Under 18s on Saturday.
Predicted team: Taylor, Ofori-Twumasi, Bruma, Bridcutt, Hutchinson/Gordon, Woods, Mellis, Tejera, Kakuta, Stoch/Paim, Sinclair
Stoke sit in mid-table in the Southern League, recording only one win from their opening four games. A bloated first-team squad means an inevitable overspill to the second eleven, which this season has featured Steve Simonsen, Leon Cort, Ryan Shawcross, Michael Tonge, Amdy Faye, Vincent Pericard and Richard Cresswell. Two of their bright young talents, goalkeeper Danzelle St. Louis-Hamilton and midfielder Nathaniel Wedderburn, have both been involved for Mark O’ Connor and could feature at some point.
With Stoke’s promotion to the Premiership, this fixture has never before been played at Premier Reserve League level. The game takes place at Brentford’s Griffin Park stadium with a 7pm kickoff. Entry is £5 adults, £3 concessions, and is free for any Chelsea Season Ticket Holder upon presentation of their team card. Chelsea TV will also be covering the match live, with coverage starting at 6.45pm.
A full report will follow on CFCnet shortly after full time.