With one eye on a UEFA Champions League clash with Barcelona next week, Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has admitted he may call upon several youth-team players for their FA Cup fifth round clash with Championship side Hull City on Friday night.
Ross Barkley, David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko are confirmed absentees from the tie at Stamford Bridge and Conte admitted in his pre-match press conference that several other names could be added to their growing casualty list.
There was good news for Blues fans, however, as Conte confirmed club-record signing Alvaro Morata was fit and was likely to feature against the Tigers.
“Now he (Morata) is training with us every day and his physical condition is improving,” Conte stated as he continued, “Tomorrow he will play a part of the game and he will be ready for the game against Barcelona”.
Conte, a former player himself, said the competition for the attacking spots had increased with the arrival of Olivier Giroud from Arsenal and the Italian insisted that it was a good thing.
“Competition is good for the team. A great team must have competition in every position. For us, Giroud is a good option. He’s very strong, he’s a powerful player and he can help us for the rest of the season,” Conte asserted.
“At this moment it’s very important to have all your players available. To have two number nines, Morata and Giroud, two options, is very important for us. Remember for a lot of the time we tried to play with (Eden) Hazard as a number nine.”
The Italian tactician was asked whether the two could play together sometime in the future, to which he responded: “In the future, yeah, it could happen if we decide to play with three midfielders, but now it is very soon to answer this question, because we are playing with the system from last season. In this case it would mean Hazard, Pedro and Willian would be out”.
Chelsea cruised past Newcastle United in the previous round, with Conte giving Callum Hudson-Odoi a first-team debut and the Chelsea boss showered the academy players with praise as he hinted that he could give some of the prospects playing time on Friday night.
“For me it’s not difficult to predict a brilliant future for Ampadu and Hudson-Odoi. In the past, in the Carabao Cup and also the FA Cup, I gave them the chance to play. We are talking about two of the best players in our Academy.
“We also have (Dujon) Sterling, and (Trevoh) Chalobah, and (Kyle) Scott, who are coming with us for tomorrow’s game. Chelsea’s future is very brilliant with these young players,” Conte added.
Currently fourth in the Premier League, Chelsea’s chances of a successful title defence are all but over and their only chance of winning any silverware this season is in cup competition (FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League).
After hosting Hull on Friday night, the Blues will prepare for the visit of European giants Barcelona for a mouthwatering UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg clash at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.