Chelsea vs Leeds United: These Blues must start the game

Blues seek redemption in season-defining Fa Cup encounter against old foes at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final
Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final / Julian Finney/GettyImages

The puzzling loss to Liverpool in extra time at Wembley during the Carabao Cup final last Sunday still weighs heavily on the minds of the manager, players, and fans alike. This FA Cup encounter arrives just three days after that draining match, leaving many players mentally and physically fatigued from the puzzling defeat in extra time. However, it presents an opportunity to rebound from the painful Carabao Cup final defeat.

Mauricio Pochettino faces the challenge of swiftly rallying his players to regroup and deliver a strong performance against Leeds United on Wednesday. With the Blues currently sitting 11th in the league, a considerable 25 points behind league leaders Liverpool and absent from European competition this season, the FA Cup theoretically represents the only remaining chance for the Blues to contend for a trophy this season. A defeat against Leeds United would essentially extinguish any hopes for silverware this season. To avoid such a scenario, the former Paris Saint-Germain head coach must inspire his players to move past the setback on Sunday and fully concentrate on this upcoming game.

Below are three players whom the Pride of London thinks should start against Leeds United, offering the Blues the best opportunity for victory in this massive 5th-round FA Cup encounter.

Noni Madueke

Given Christopher Nkunku's recent injury and the evident mental and physical strain on underperforming forwards like Raheem Sterling and  Mykhailo Mudryk following the Carabao Cup final defeat, Noni Madueke emerges as a promising outlet for the team's attacking play.

Madueke possesses the pace, energy, and technical skill to trouble Leeds United's typically high defensive line. With 20 appearances this season, including 12 in the league, two in the Carabao Cup, and three in the FA Cup, he has already demonstrated his versatility. Notably, he has accumulated a total of 181 minutes on the pitch during previous FA Cup rounds, indicating his familiarity with the competition's demands.

Alfie Gilchrist

The Blues' back line has been significantly impacted by injuries throughout this season. With the experienced Thiago Silva still sidelined and unable to command the backline, coupled with the fatigue plaguing several defenders, a shift in personnel will be necessary for Wednesday evening's fixture at Stamford Bridge.

At just 20 years old, Gilchrist has already showcased his capabilities by featuring in all of the senior team's FA Cup matches this campaign. He is primed and ready to assume responsibility if given the opportunity. Indeed, the recent display of Liverpool's young talents against Mauricio Pochettino's team at Wembley serves as a reminder of the impact young talents can have if given the opportunity.

Cole Parmer

Cole Palmer has shown consistency amidst the chaos at Stamford Bridge this season, making an impressive 23-goal contributions across 33 appearances. Despite a missed opportunity in the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool in the first half,  Palmer's influence grew as the game progressed, notably creating two huge chances for his teammates during the second half of regular play.

Undoubtedly, since his transfer from Manchester City to Chelsea in the summer of 2023, Palmer has emerged as one of the standout signings of the season. Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino has lauded the playmaker's impact, likening him to Angel Di Maria.

 Pochettino remarked,  “In the position that he plays, and because he’s a left-footer and because he has some similarities and the quality, he’s a potential Angel Di Maria. He has the capability and the potential to be close to him, with time. He’s still far away, but this type of player that can link, can be a playmaker, have the capacity to score, assist, it’s this type of player like Angel.”

If Chelsea are to restore some sense of pride at Stamford Bridge tonight, Cole Palmer will be the go-to player to make that happen. Anything less than a win tonight at Stamford Bridge would cast further doubts about Pochettino's suitability for the managerial role at Stamford Bridge.