Chelsea breezed into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday with a dominant victory over Grimsby.
Blues fans eagerly anticipated the return of some young stars from injury – and they didn’t disappoint.
Reece James in particular was a constant menace down the right flank, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a superb goal and assist in the 7-1 drubbing.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, who impressed for Chelsea towards the end of last season, also put in a solid display on his return from his Achilles injury – capping his comeback with a neat finish in the closing stages of the game.
Despite having a mixed bag of results so far this season, there is still a genuine feeling of excitement around Stamford Bridge.
Frank Lampard is not stalling from his philosophy of: ‘If they’re good enough, they’re old enough!’ – and it’s a breath of fresh air for Blues fans who patiently waited to see their academy prospects get their chance.
However, the English boss still has some big decisions to make and has yet to figure out his best XI.
So how should Chelsea line-up for the remainder of the campaign? talkSPORT.com has identified the team that must be the starting XI if the Blues are to mount a serious top four challenge this season…
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Goalkeeper: Kepa Arrizabalaga
Kepa made some stunning saves against Liverpool last weekend but he is still searching for his first clean sheet this season.
The Spanish stopper will be hoping he can get his first shut-out against Brighton at the weekend.
Defenders: Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Antonio Rudiger, Emerson Palmieri
As much as he has been one of the best and most consistent full-backs in the Premier League for the best part of a decade, now is the time for Lampard to be ruthless and drop Cesar Azpilicueta.
The full-back’s sluggish displays so far this season has similarities to Branislav Ivanovic’s final season at the club. He is being singled out as the clear weakness at the back and is clearly lacking the energy and sharpness he used to have.
Lampard must put James in his starting XI because he was electric for Wigan last season and won their Player of the Year award, despite the Latics enduring a pretty disappointing campaign.
He was superb in the Carabao Cup, albeit against Grimsby, but he must now be given the chance in the Premier League.
Another positive for Chelsea fans this season has been the emergence of Fikayo Tomori.
He has been by far and away the most solid defender for Chelsea this term – and he put in his best display yet against Liverpool last weekend, expertly nullifying the threat of Mohamed Salah coming in from the wing for the majority of the match.
Tomori must partner Antonio Rudiger when the German is back to full fitness.
Moreover, when Emerson returns from injury he must return to the starting XI. The Italian full-back will reportedly be rewarded for his fine early-season form with a new contract.
Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic
Mateo Kovacic seems to have really come into his own this season, bursting forward with intent on the ball and using it wisely – a vast contrast to last season where he was often criticised for his purposeless passing.
If he adds goals and assists to his game he could become one of the league’s very best box-to-box midfielders – but that is no small task.
Jorginho has also improved this season and he is now becoming a real fan favourite due to the leadership qualities he is showing on the pitch.
He is the essential cog in the midfield, acting as the middle man who orchestrates the transition between defence and attack.
The midfielder’s role in the team is often understated and without him Chelsea would be a far inferior side.
N’Golo Kante – who is now disputably Chelsea’s only world-class player – should be the first name on the teamsheet week in, week out.
Forwards: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount
Hudson-Odoi looked extremely dangerous for Chelsea at the tail-end of last season but there are still question marks as to whether he can perform at the highest level just yet.
However, in light of Christian Pulisic’s somewhat uninspiring start to life at Stamford Bridge, the teenager should be given the chance to prove his worth on the right flank ahead of Pedro and Willian.
As we all know, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have had superb starts to their campaigns, scoring seven and three goals respectively.
Mount in particular has something which a Chelsea side haven’t had in years – a genuine goalscorer from behind the striker – and he looks like he could be a feature in the starting XI for years to come.
Have a look at the full line-up below…
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