Opportunity Knocks

For many, myself included, tonight’s Carling Cup game will be one of the most anticipated Chelsea matches in some time.

For whilst it’s not a title six-pointer, or a European knockout tie, it may represent the future of the club. 2010-11 is the season where the Blues will apparently use the Carling Cup to showcase some of the younger talents at Stamford Bridge.

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt and Daniel Sturridge will start, whilst news of Josh McEachran’s inclusion from the start is increasing the closer we get to kickoff.

Reserve team players Billy Clifford and Jacob Mellis will be amongst the substitutes, whilst there is also sure to be a place in the squad for Italian striker Fabio Borini. With a number of first team players taking a rest, the likes of Conor Clifford and Sam Walker may also find themselves involved.

The competition has, for one reason or another, seen Chelsea use a stronger team than many of their contemporaries in recent years. Jose Mourinho identified it as the first available opportunity to bring success to a squad which had yet to experience that feeling, an approach which reaped fine reward.

Yet in the following two seasons under his leadership, only Scott Sinclair, Ben Sahar and Nuno Morais saw playing time, and things hardly improved under Avram Grant or Luis Felipe Scolari.

In defence of the latter pair, each were under pressure to achieve immediate success, which meant no room for experimenting, with all attentions focused on the rather large first team squad with which they were working.

However, a change in philosophy came twelve months ago when Ancelotti afforded starts to Sam Hutchinson and Fabio Borini at home to Queens Park Rangers, and now, as double winners, the opportunity has been handed to more individuals.

For both Bruma and van Aanholt, it will represent a full debut after a handful of substitute appearances, whilst the same will apply to McEachran, who made his first appearance just last week away to MSK Zilina.

The line-up is set to be complemented by the inclusion of captain John Terry as he recovers from a rib injury, whilst experienced hands in Salomon Kalou, Yossi Benayoun and Branislav Ivanovic should all be involved.

Newcastle will also shuffle their pack, giving a debut to veteran defender Sol Campbell, whilst Nile Ranger should also start up front. Both were involved last Thursday as Steve Holland’s reserve team came away from St. James’ Park with a 3-2 win.

A repeat of that result tonight – and a maiden goal for one of the youngsters – would go down very well.