Michail Antonio has now joined Winston Reid and Pedro Obiang in missing the remainder of the season. Andy Carroll is believed to be ahead of schedule, but I honestly wouldn’t risk him. Knowing him, he will only get injured again. All of this means that our already paper-thin squad is stretched to the limits. It has become a worrying trend in recent years that as we come to the business end of the season, we are missing important players. Antonio’s early withdrawal from the game meant a welcome return to the team for the highly rated Swiss youngster, Edimilson Fernandes. During the international break, he played 76 minutes for the U21s having been out for several months with an ankle injury. There was talk of him missing the rest of the season and the World Cup, so it was a pleasant surprise seeing him back on the pitch.
This is something that has happened throughout the last couple of seasons. A player gets injured and is seemingly rushed back before seeming to break down again and be out injured for even longer. Getting through that Southampton game, whilst playing quite well it has to be said, will have given him a massive boost. Should he start against Chelsea though? Antonio will miss out so there is an open spot in the team and he was the man filling in. as I said, he played well, but he has just come back from a serious injury. He needs to be rehabilitated essentially so that he doesn’t break down again. At most, he should be getting an hour at Chelsea, just to give his body time to recover. It could be that I’m overthinking this but seeing news of Andy Carroll being ahead of schedule (not for the first time over the years) just makes me want to see the club be cautious with a recently injured player.
So, if Fernandes is to miss out on a starting spot, who have we realistically got to put in instead? Jordan Hugill still fails to impress so expect to see him on the bench. This leaves us with either Lanzini or Chicharito. Both are reportedly back for the Chelsea game and in my opinion, it would be good to see Chicharito starting against Chelsea. Either player is capable of playing with Arnautovic up front, but it is in other areas of the field that influences that decision. Joao Mario had undoubtedly one of his best games in a claret and blue shirt on Saturday, linking up play well with Masuaku and Arnie and was involved in all three goals in some part. Bringing in Lanzini will force other players to adapt whilst Chicharito allows some form of continuity in the team.
Alternatively, Lanzini could come into the midfield, but with Noble and Kouyate finally impressing together, it would be foolish from Moyes to disrupt that from the start. Particularly against Chelsea, I imagine a more defensive selection will be picked. Lets just hope last week wasn’t a flash in the pan, especially for Kouyate. As for the attacking midfield role, or right wing depending on how the formation is interpreted, that would come down to Mario or Lanzini and I cannot justify dropping Mario, but you then have the option of Lanzini coming off the bench. What a lovely headache to have for a change.
Finally, the defence. They finally looked organised against Southampton and Joe Hart didn’t have to face a shot on target in the whole game. One shaky incident at the start was followed by a rare commanding performance which will mean he continues in goal. Constant chopping and changing of a keeper really doesn’t help the defence in front of them, so for now its his to lose. Cresswell and Masuaku will continue to share that LB/LWB role (Moyes seems to start
with a 5-3-2 which changes into a 4-4-2 at times) with Zabaleta over on the right. Joining Cresswell in his part-time CB role will surely be a resurgent Ogbonna and the excellent Declan Rice. Both of these players have become very important in the last few weeks and it is my opinion that Rice should be one of the first names on the team sheet. He is young, but outstandingly talented for his age.
Fernandes does miss out for me but will have a role off the bench. He showed excellent defensive awareness and technique on his come back and will be trusted to either protect a point or lead or try and get us back into the game. Its about time we started looking after players who are coming back from injury and when selecting the line-up for Chelsea Moyes will need to bear that in mind.
My starting XI:
Rice Ogbonna Cresswell
By Stephen Barrows