Date:5th January 2022 at 2:55pm
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Wednesday evening’s Carabao Cup semi-final clash between Chelsea and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge promises to be an interesting one for a number of reasons. 

As well as the age-old rivalry that ensures any meeting between the two sides is a fiery and fascinating affair, there is the added drama of Romelu Lukaku’s surprising interview with Italian media, leaked this week, that prompted Thomas Tuchel to axe him from the squad to face Liverpool on Sunday.

As well as that, there is the return of Antonio Conte to Stamford Bridge, less than four years after leaving the club with which he won a Premier League title and FA cup in successive seasons.

With all of that in mind, and the prospect of a cup final firmly in both sides’ sights, the encounter at Stamford Bridge promises to be an intriguing one.

Below, we predict the XI that Tuchel will choose to take on Spurs in the first leg;

Goalkeeper

First choice ‘keeper Edouard Mendy departed for Cameroon on Sunday night and will spend the next few weeks at the African Cup of Nations representing Senegal. His absence gives Kepa Arrizabalaga a rare opportunity to put together a successive run of games, and he will be hoping to keep a clean sheet against goal-shy Harry Kane. Marcus Bettinelli will warm the bench for much of the next month, although he could make his debut against Chesterfield in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Defence

Injuries across his backline may force Tuchel’s hand, although he will be reluctant to name all of his first choice defenders with huge games against Manchester City and Spurs coming up in the league. The German will likely opt for Malang Sarr as part of a back three, with Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva his most likely accomplices.

Rudiger has played more minutes than any other outfield player at the club this season

The German has played more minutes than any of the Blues’ outfield players so far this season and is certainly due a rest, but injuries to both Andreas Christensen and Trevoh Chalobah may mean he is forced to play. The Brazilian, meanwhile, agreed to a one-year contract extension on Monday which will take him to aged 38, but his performance against Liverpool on Sunday proved why he is so valuable and he will be key to stopping Kane, Son-Heung Min and co.

Midfield

In midfield, both Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante deserve a rest after both arguably deserving the man of the match award on Sunday. The pair were both crucial to Chelsea’s fightback and will need to be kept fit if they are to keep their slim title hopes alive. In their absence, Jorginho looks a certainty to start, triggering a fascinating battle with Piere-Emile Hojbjerg in the middle of the park. Next to the Italian, Ruben Loftus-Cheek may be preferred to Saul Niguez, who has struggled since arriving on loan from Atletico Madrid. The Englishman has been injured of late but returned to training this week and could be involved from the start. Ross Barkley will likely be involved from the bench.

Jorginho was a substitute against Liverpool but will expect to start on Wednesday

On the left flank, Callum Hudson-Odoi could once again be used in the unfamiliar left wing-back role that he was utilised in earlier in the season. The youngster has excelled when played further forward this term, but a long-term to Ben Chilwell means Marcos Alonso may have little opportunity for rest if the Blues don’t sign a replacement, and the Spaniard may be given the chance to sit this one out.

On the opposite side Chelsea are equally as short of options, with Reece James also out for up to two months after sustaining an injury against Brighton and Hove Albion. The England international had been arguably the Blues’ player of the season so far, and the ageing Cesar Apzilicueta has now been tasked with filling in at right wing-back for the foreseeable. The Spaniard is another experienced player who may need protecting at his age, but a sheer lack of alternatives may mean he is forced to start.

Forwards

Mason Mount will likely sit this one out having been an ever-present in recent months. The Englishman could be replaced by Hakim Ziyech as part of Tuchel’s front three, with the Moroccan having failed appear in any of the club’s last four matches.

Through the middle, Romelu Lukaku’s inclusion or exclusion will be the biggest talking point ahead of kick-off, but Tuchel could opt to give the Belgian a chance to begin making amends for his controversial interview by bagging against Spurs. The 28-year-old has scored in each of his last two games, and will be hopeful of adding to that tally.

Lukaku will be hoping to atone for his unpopular comments to Italian media

On the opposite side to Ziyech, fit-again Timo Werner could be drafted straight back into the action having missed the Blues’ last six games through Coronavirus. The german returned to training over the weekend but wasn’t ready to be involved against Liverpool, but the game on Wednesday could represent the perfect opportunity for him to return. Werner and Lukaku looked to link up brilliantly when Chelsea beat Spurs convincingly at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier in the season, and supporters will be hoping for more of the same.

With the first domestic cup up for grabs next month, both London sides will be desperate to take the advantage in the first leg of the semi-final on Wednesday, before the second leg takes place the following week with Tottenham playing hosts.

Both sides will be without big names due to injury and both bosses will likely rotate to reduce the risk of furthering their selection headaches, but the match between two bitter rivals promises as always to be a fascinating one.

 
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