Chelsea will start their Champions League campaign with the same XI they brought out for the second half against Wolves. Kurt Zouma for Antonio Rudiger is the only change to the Blues’ most recent starting lineup.
Frank Lampard is opting against rotation as Chelsea enter their second tournament of the season. He is using the same starting XI that powered the Blues to a 5-2 win over Wolves, with the one change – instituted at halftime at Molineux – of Kurt Zouma for Antonio Rudiger, who picked up a slight groin injury in that game.
This keeps Chelsea in the 3-4-3, with Marcos Alonso and Willian in position to stake their claim as part of “the Champions League XI.” Given Lampard’s apparent lack of interest in rotating, though, this may be their chance to become part of his regular XI for any competition, provided (at least in Alonso’s case) that they stay in the 3-4-3.
Lampard is defying expectations with this XI, and potentially risking some of his most important and most prominent young players. The narrow squad he has used so far in the Premier League led us to believe he would have two distinct squads for the two main competitions. This would help lessen the psychological blow to experienced players like Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi of spending their first month almost entirely on the bench. Just as importantly, it would less the physiological stresses building up on players like Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount.
Abraham and Mount do not play an easy style of football. Easy on the eyes, as the cliched phrase goes, but our eyes. The fans’ eyes. It’s quite demanding on their legs, hips, cardiovascular system – you know, that whole athletic human performance thing. They are already logging substantial minutes and kilometers of high intensity pressing, sprinting and Premier League physical collisions (let alone the knee to the groin Mount took on international duty).
With N’Golo Kante still battling the sequelae of overuse and a premature return, and with Antonio Rudiger also battling a newly recurring injury, there is no small bit of risk of playing these forwards on three days rest at this point in the season.
This lineup is certainly a statement of ambition and may in its own way be a conservative precaution: let Chelsea take an early lead in the group with the hope of winning the group after the fourth match. Then, with the final two matches being dead rubbers at the most congested part of the season, Lampard can rotate when he will need it most.
That will be small consolation for players like Batshuayi and Giroud. The only thing worse than not being in the lineup is figuring out that you are being “saved” for truly pointless matches.
The potential backfire is if Abraham, Mount or another of his regulars ends up missing games in the next few months through fatigue or injury. Then Lampard will need his back-ups to be match sharp even though they have had no chances to get there, and he will need them in games the club truly need to win.
Trust in this manager far outweighs trust in earlier processes. Even so, a bit of worry is justifiable in the background of an otherwise exciting Tuesday night.