LONDON // An enforced close-season restructuring of the Stamford Bridge squad means Chelsea will break from club policy against Newcastle United tonight by fielding a weakened team in the Carling Cup for the first time. This summer witnessed the departure of seasoned internationals Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Deco and Juliano Belletti, who between them started 120 matches as Chelsea won the league and cup double.
The quintet were replaced by Ramires, the Brazil midfielder, on significantly cheaper wages, and Yossi Benayoun, a player who had failed to establish himself as a first choice in a struggling Liverpool side. Neither signing was instigated by Chelsea's manager. Ancelotti wanted to retain the services of several of the "fantastic players and personalities" moved on in the summer and was particularly disappointed when the club abruptly terminated negotiations with Ballack, the Germany captain, over a contract extension.
He had persistently stated that Cole would be retained at Stamford Bridge, and was also led to believe that the club would make a serious attempt to recruit a pair of world-class players. Instead, a cost-conscious Chelsea board made heavy cuts to the squad's wage bill by selling Carvalho to Real Madrid and releasing Ballack, Cole, Deco and Belletti. Ancelotti was asked to promote five graduates from Chelsea's lavishly backed but oft-criticised academy to his first-team squad.
Ancelotti privately feels his squad is not strong enough to properly compete in four competitions. Indeed, a host of senior players were told ahead of Sunday's 4-0 victory over Blackpool that they would be rested this evening with Saturday's Premier League visit to Manchester City in mind. Chelsea have taken England's second cup competition more seriously than their major rivals throughout the Roman Abramovich era - twice winning it under Jose Mourinho in 2005 and 2007 - but Ancelotti has taken a pragmatic decision to alter that approach.
Fabio Borini, an Italian striker, Gael Kakuta, a French winger, Josh McEachran, an English midfielder, and the Dutch defenders Jeffrey Bruma and Patrick van Aanholt are all pencilled in to play tonight against a Newcastle side that will feature Sol Campbell for the first time. "We will change a lot of players, we want to use this competition for our young players," said Ancelotti of his plans for the third-round tie. "I'm confident to put out a very good team because we have young players ready to play for us."
With the five academy recruits having made just one Chelsea start between them to date, he has been left with only 17 experienced outfield players. Of them, several key figures are over the age of 30 and increasingly prone to injury. Ancelotti's response has been to downgrade the importance of the League Cup and rotate his squad more heavily ahead of important Premier League fixtures, such the City game.
Though Frank Lampard was fit to return following corrective micro-surgery on a groin problem, the midfielder was held back to ensure his availability for the first serious test of Chelsea's title defence and is expected to remain on the sidelines tonight. "For [tonight] I don't know [if Lampard will play]," said Ancelotti. "We hope he will be fit for Manchester City." John Terry, however, may start against Newcastle as the centre-back is keen for playing time after suffering a rib injury.
There is also a feeling in the Chelsea camp that Bruma will benefit from having the club's most battle-hardened defender alongside him on the 18-year-old's full debut. As well as the Carling Cup and the Premier League, Chelsea have more forthcoming fixtures in the Champions League and the FA Cup. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org 10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +8