Antonio Conte has not ruled out Diego Costa for Sunday’s FA Cup opener against Peterborough. Michy Batshuayi may still not get a full 90 minutes, even against a League One opponent.
Michy Batshuayi has charm, charisma and good humour to spare. Come Sunday afternoon, his seemingly bottomless positivity may understandably be running on fumes. At his pre-match press conference, Antonio Conte refused to commit to Batshuayi’s place in the lineup for Chelsea’s FA Cup match with Peterborough.
Kurt Zouma, on the other hand, had his place in the starting XI confirmed in front of the world. “Zouma will start, he is ready to start. He deserves to start,” Conte said, settling matters with zero room for ambiguity.
As for the Spongebob-loving Belgian striker, well….. things are a bit murkier:
"I have a good opportunity in this game to see Michy from the start, and this is important. Diego is doing very well, he is playing a lot, and I didn’t take a final decision because there is also tomorrow’s training, but for Michy it could be a good opportunity to show me his promise. – Chelsea FC"
Conte then reiterated his usual spiel about the difficulties of adapting to the Premier League, and Batshuayi’s continued progress in training.
Meanwhile, Chelsea are supposedly still entertaining a bid for Fernando Llorente to provide depth at striker behind Diego Costa. The Blues are also weighing options to loan Ruben Loftus-Cheek to another Premier League club or a Championship club. Stoke City and Brighton & Hove Albion are the latest contenders for a Loftus-Cheek loan.
So to recap: Chelsea are dangerously shallow among strikers. So much so, they are prepared to buy a 31-year old in case anything happens to Diego Costa. They are also cognizant of the importance of playing time for a young player’s development in the Premier League. To that end, they are considering loaning an Academy product with 24 first team appearances somewhere within England’s top two tiers.
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And without a shred of irony or self-awareness, Chelsea may not start their nominal backup striker against a League One opponent because he lacks experience in the English game. This, after explicitly ruling out the possibility of loaning him, despite interest from numerous teams and begging from West Ham United.
For teams like Chelsea, one of the major perks of the domestic cups are the opportunity to use young players in a lower-pressure situation. Countless Premier League stars made their debut in the FA Cup. With 84 minutes distributed across 12 appearances this season, Michy Batshuayi is the kind of player that counts down the days to the FA Cup third round.
Everyone expected Michy Batshuayi to start against Sunderland as Diego Costa served his one-game suspension. Instead, Antonio Conte played Eden Hazard as a false-nine. Hazard played the position superbly en route to another victory. Results like that – and the other 12 wins – make it difficult to question Antonio Conte’s decisions.
If Batshuayi does not feature against Peterborough, it is difficult to see him starting later in the tournament. The opposition will only get better and, with the silverware in sight, Conte may choose his best XI to secure his first trophy. Yet it is equally difficult to imagine a £32 million international content to stay for a second season after amassing barely a few hundred minutes in his first season.
We trust in Conte, and Batshuayi surely does as well, but that does not make this situation any easier to defend or explain. Soon trust will need to make way for proof.