Chelsea enter this season’s Carling Cup on Wednesday night and as usual, speculation abounds as to how the club will approach the competition ahead of their third round clash with local neighbours Fulham.
The tie represents Andre Villas-Boas’ first foray into the league cup and whilst many clubs treat it as an unwanted distraction, the Portuguese will no doubt recall that it represented his first piece of silverware in his first spell at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho led the Blues to glory in Cardiff in early 2005.
Fulham arrive at the Bridge in the middle of a run of seven fixtures in twenty-one days for Chelsea. At the outset of the run, Villas-Boas indicated that the squad would be used to its fullest during this spell, particularly with an international round (and the lengthy travelling it typically entails) preceding it.
Sandwiched between a defeat at Old Trafford and the visit of Swansea City in the league, conventional wisdom suggests Villas-Boas will use the match to hand playing time to a clutch of players who are in desperate need of it.
Chief amongst these, at least in the eyes of many supporters, is Josh McEachran. The 18 year-old midfielder has yet to make an appearance this season after receiving a generous helping of action in the summer, and was absent from the substitutes bench at Manchester United last weekend.
It was twelve months ago that he made his home debut in this very competition and an outstanding cameo against Newcastle instantly shot him into the limelight. Now, he will be looking for the opportunity to impress and stake a claim for more involvement in the Chelsea midfield.
Teenage kicks is often the theme in the Carling Cup and whilst neither Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku are home-grown academy products, they represent the future of the club and are both set to make their full debuts after fleeting minutes from the bench thus far.
Throw in left-back Ryan Bertrand and you have a fairly decent smattering of youthful endeavour. Alongside them, the likes of Salomon Kalou, Paulo Ferreira, David Luiz and Florent Malouda should add experience and ensure that the Blues remain competitive against good opposition.
Undoubtedly, John Terry and Frank Lampard will be keen to feature, but as Villas-Boas showed last week agaisnt Bayer Leverkusen, he is not afraid to leave them on the sidelines when rest is needed.
There will also be a clamour for the inclusion of Fernando Torres in search of a much-needed confidence boost, but the Spaniard is unlikely to be handed a starting berth.
WIth Hilário and Ross Turnbull nursing injuries, Petr Cech could make his first Carling Cup appearance since the 2007-08 Final against Tottenham. Welsh fourth-choice stopper Rhys Taylor had a scan on a back problem last week and his status is uncertain, meaning a potential place on the bench for 17 year-old Jamal Blackman.
The first-year pro could be joined by any from Nathaniel Chalobah (suspension appeal pending), Billy Clifford or Jacob Mellis but Blues fans should not expect an Arsenal-esque youth team influx.
Fulham have shown a willingness to rotate their own squad this season, with a lengthy Europa League qualification campaign allowing Matthew Briggs, Kerim Frei, and Tom Donegan to make first-team waves, and Martin Jol will likely repeat the trick on Wednesday night.
Kickoff at Stamford Bridge is set for 7.45pm on Wednesday and the match referee will be Chris Foy.