Chelsea need a tactical change to offset the absence of N'Golo Kante
Chelsea's midweek return to European action against Roma provides an almost immediate opportunity for Blues boss Antonio Conte to right the many wrongs evident in Saturday's shambolic Premier League loss to the top flight's basement club Crystal Palace.
Gutless and clueless for the majority of the game, Chelsea were dominated by a Palace side who were both goalless and pointless before the encounter. In the wake of the 2-1 defeat, it wasn't just the experienced members of the team, players like skipper Gary Cahill, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, Willian and Eden Hazard, who were the subject of stern criticism for their feeble performances and lack of motivation. Conte's selection, tactics and substitutions were also pulled apart and had their validity questioned.
The absence through injury of striker Alvaro Morata and perhaps more significantly midfielder N'Golo Kante contributed to Chelsea's malaise against Palace. While Conte will be buoyed by Morata's return to training and his likely availability for the game with Roma, he will be concerned that Kante remains sidelined.
Without the France international shielding the Blues' defence, the limitations of pace and mobility that come with 30-somethings Cahill and Luiz were ruthlessly exposed by Andros Townsend and Wifried Zaha of Palace, so Conte needs to consider a change of personnel and tactics for the Roma game or face the possibility of the past weekend's nightmare being repeated.
A switch from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 could provide the Italian with an interim solution to the Kante problem. Deploying Luiz in a holding midfield role would enable the inclusion of Andreas Christensen at centre-back. Against Palace, Luiz was all too often seen engaging in random tackles thereby leaving a gap in the middle. Despite being just 21, Christensen boasts a mature football brain. The Denmark international fully understands the requirement to stay in position and mop up after teammates either side of him have done the dirty work. Christensen already looks every inch a future Chelsea captain and a good performance against Roma will surely pave the way for ongoing selection.
After the Palace debacle, captain Cahill was swift to make a public declaration via Chelsea's official website that the team would do all they can to bounce back against Roma. Whether the England international deserves to be in Conte's plans for game has been widely debated by Blues supporters on social media. Antonio Rudiger, who joined the Blues from Wednesday's opponents in the summer, is a credible alternative. The 24-year old Germany international has the type of robust physicality and agile mobility that is now lacking in Cahill's game and he will surely have extra motivation to show his capabilities against his former club.
The versatility of Cesar Azpilicueta provides Conte with the option to deploy him at right-wing-back in place of Victor Moses, who picked up a hamstring injury against Palace. Such a move would allow for the inclusion of Cahill in defence, however Davide Zappacosta, who replaced Moses at Selhurst Park, looks set to get the nod with his experience playing against Serie A sides a prime consideration.
Would Conte be taking a risk tinkering with his setup in this way against Roma? Recent history suggests otherwise. Following the shocking 3-2 home loss to Burnley on the opening day of the season, a game in which Cahill was sent off and subsequently served a three-match ban, the Blues boss opted for a 3-5-2 setup away to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Luiz had an excellent game playing in defensive midfield in front of Azpilicueta, Christensen and Rudiger as Chelsea nullified the threat of prolific Spurs striker Harry Kane and ran out 2-1 winners.
True enough, Kante featured for the Blues in that game, and against Roma, should Conte opt to go 3-5-2, it will be Cesc Fabregas who will come in to the side as he did against Palace and play alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko. Fabregas and Bakayoko were Chelsea's best outfield players at Selhurst, indeed it was a precisely placed corner from the Spaniard that was met by the head of Bakayoko to give the Blues their only goal of the game.
Given that Roma have conceded just five goals in Serie A this season, and played out a dour 0-0 home draw with Atletico Madrid in the first round of Champions League Group C fixtures, it may well take a bit of Fabregas set-piece magic to find a way of breaching a well-orchestrated defence.
Chelsea have saved their best football so far this season for Europe's elite competition and Conte knows he needs a decent result to re-instil the winning belief in his players that appears to be flagging after two successive Premier League defeats. The Italian remains a firm favourite with the Stamford Bridge crowd, but should he fail to address team deficiencies, then boardroom pressure could make life difficult.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco