Graham Potter knows full well that Chelsea can’t simply sacrifice the Carabao Cup this season. It’s why tonight’s game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium – even if changes are made to the starting XI – is one the Blues will be doing their utmost to win.
“It’s not about me or my ego or anything like that,” explained Potter during his pre-match press conference. “It’s about what is right for the team and what is right for the club. We have to go to Manchester City and be competitive because I’m sure they will be. In trying to win the game, we have to be as strong as we can.
“We’ll do our best and prepare the team with the greatest respect to our opponent. They’re a fantastic team. We go to try and win the game.”
Chelsea’s task is not an easy one. Not only are City formidable on their own patch, but Potter will be without an ever-increasing number of first-team players. There will be no Kepa. Reece James and Wesley Fofana are both out. As is Ben Chilwell after he suffered a hamstring injury last week.
N’Golo Kante is sidelined until February after undergoing hamstring surgery last month. Carney Chukwuemeka has yet to recover from a hamstring issue of his own. And Jorginho, who played 90 minutes at the weekend against Arsenal, isn’t expected to feature due to a foot injury.
Throw in the fact that Thiago Silva may be given the night off with a trip to Newcastle United in the Premier League to come at the weekend, and there are very few options available for Potter to genuinely refresh his starting XI.
What’s clear is that in goal for Chelsea will be Edouard Mendy. The Senegal international spent two years as the club’s number-one goalkeeper but lost his place in the side after Potter’s appointment. However, the injury to Kepa has opened the door for Mendy to re-establish his starting role.
Having trialled a back four against Arsenal – without great success, it must be said – it’s likely Potter returns to a three-man backline against City. Trevoh Chalobah has played every minute over the past month but will continue on the right of the defence with Kalidou Koulibaly coming in for Silva in the centre. Marc Cucurella can then fill in on the left.
Cesar Azpilicueta was solid in the defeat to the Gunners on Sunday but is rarely able to play three matches a week. If the Spaniard is rested, Ruben Loftus-Cheek may be selected at wing-back, given his experience playing the role under Thomas Tuchel.
Options are limited as to who fills in on the opposite flank. Raheem Sterling has done so under Potter. Christian Pulisic is another candidate. Neither have thrived, however, and that may enable youngster Lewis Hall to force his way into the starting XI.
In midfield, Denis Zakaria is expected to start after his impressive debut against Dinamo Zagreb last week. Conor Gallagher will be pushing for a place, and then a decision has to be made over Mateo Kovacic, whose fitness has been carefully managed this season due to an ongoing knee injury.
Armando Broja is expected to lead the Chelsea attack, having made several impressive cameo appearances off the substitutes’ bench, and it’s the same story for Christian Pulisic, although that would mean Hakim Ziyech misses out on the starting XI once again.