Thomas Tuchel will disappoint several members of the Chelsea first-team squad today when he names his side for the FA Cup final against Leicester City.
The German’s constant rotation means very few players will be assured of their spot in the starting XI. Many will be hopeful of running out at Wembley come 5.15pm this afternoon.
There are a couple who can be relaxed, however. Tuchel has already confirmed Kepa Arriazabalga will start between the posts for Chelsea. It is a big opportunity for the Spaniard who was dropped for last year’s final against Arsenal due to poor form.
“If you have a goalkeeper for this competition, as we have had with Kepa, you don’t change in the final,” Tuchel insisted in his pre-match press conference. “He is a part of the group, he brought us to the final so he deserves to play the final.”
The other guaranteed starter is N’Golo Kante. The French midfielder was absent from the squad for the midweek defeat to Arsenal as he needed what Tuchel described as “pain management” for a problem with his Achilles.
However, Kante trained on Thursday and Friday and Tuchel says the 30-year-old is ready to play the full game if needed. “He will start tomorrow and very likely finish the game for us,” the German said.
Who else is likely to be included in the side is not so easy to call. Cesar Azpilicueta should be in defence and on the right of the back three. With Andreas Christensen only returning from injury on Thursday, it’s likely Thiago Silva occupies the central role.
Antonio Rudiger missed the defeat to Arsenal to ensure he wouldn’t be “overloaded” for the final fortnight of the campaign. It’s safe to assume the German will be deployed in his usual position on the left of the defensive trio at Wembley.
If Azpilicueta is used in the back three, that will almost certainly ensure Reece James starts at right wing-back for Chelsea. And the 21-year-old spoke with football.london ahead of today’s game about looking to emulate Blues greats.
On the opposite flank should be Ben Chilwell and the England international will be hoping to overcome the side he departed last summer.
In midfield, Jorginho is nailed on to be Kante’s partner. Mateo Kovacic is back in Chelsea training but given he has missed almost a month of football, will not have the match fitness needed to start against the Foxes.
Nonetheless, Tuchel is delighted to have the Croatia international back and in contention to feature at Wembley.
He said: “It’s huge because Mateo has everything we need in the midfield: experience, power, acceleration, deceleration, can beat players, has the physical ability, and has played big games.
“It’s big news for us that Kova is back because he has a big impact on the dressing room around big matches. He’s a very positive guy.”
Mason Mount is expected to be stationed on the right of the Chelsea attack. Timo Werner, having sat out the midweek defeat, should occupy the “left ten” role he has often played under Tuchel.
That would leave Kai Havertz to lead the Blues’ frontline. The German has produced big performances in recent weeks, most notably against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.
The German has proved he can handle the big occasion and his movement could cause problems for the centre-back pairing of Wesley Fofana and Jonny Evans, assuming the latter is fit to start.
Predicted Chelsea side (3-4-2-1): Kepa; Azpilicutea, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Werner