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Ethan Ampadu excels for Chelsea; Danny Drinkwater still building fitness

LONDON -- Chelsea are set for a two-legged battle with Arsenal in the semifinals of the Carabao Cup after a dramatic late win over Bournemouth. Antonio Conte called their progress "a remarkable achievement," but the Italian was even more proud of the way his team had done it.

"It's great for us, especially because we reached the semifinal with a lot of rotation," said Conte, who made eight changes to his starting XI for the visit of Bournemouth. "Tonight many players had a chance to play from the start, and I think I had good responses from them. I am very happy for this."

ESPN FC takes a closer look at the five Chelsea starters who had the most to prove to Conte on Wednesday night.

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Michy Batshuayi

Challenged by Conte to prove that he could be a better striker option than Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard earlier this week, Batshuayi could only watch from his usual spot on the substitutes' bench as the two men combined superbly to win the match for Chelsea in the final seconds.

During Batshuayi's 73 minutes on the pitch there were some good moments -- especially a smart pass around the corner to find Kenedy in the build-up to Willian's opener -- but a combination of Simon Francis and Steve Cook successfully limited his goal threat.

Batshuayi was also a victim of circumstances in the second half, increasingly forced to chase loose balls as Chelsea failed to prevent Bournemouth from taking control. All in all, though, this wasn't the kind of performance that will earn him the Premier League minutes he is so desperately seeking.

Grade: B-

Ethan Ampadu

Bournemouth's tactics gave Ampadu the perfect opportunity to settle into the game early on; the 17-year-old racked up completed passes as the visitors allowed Chelsea's defenders to work the ball from side to side without pressure.

The adrenaline was clearly still pumping, though, when he crashed into Jermain Defoe just inside the Bournemouth half within two minutes.

Conte queried Lee Mason's decision to show Ampadu a yellow card so early in the game, but his victim lasted just 15 more minutes before leaving the field with suspected ankle ligament damage.

Ampadu needs to rein in his more reckless impulses, but for every physical challenge there were many more examples of sound judgement in the air and the floor, as danger was quickly sensed and calmly dealt with.

On this evidence Conte has another viable option for the middle of his back three against Premier League opposition -- bad news for David Luiz.

Grade: A-

Ethan Ampadu made a captivating argument for more Premier League minutes against Bournemouth.


It's been a peculiar season for Kenedy. Widely assumed to be a goner after his China disgrace, he was kept around at the behest of Conte as the only natural alternative to Marcos Alonso, but has since failed to win the Italian's trust.

Conte insisted this week that Kenedy's lack of game time is not punishment for his past misdemeanours, but his only opportunities since have come in the Carabao Cup, with both Davide Zappacosta and Cesar Azpilicueta preferred as cover for Alonso in the Premier League and Champions League.

Kenedy has always been most dangerous contributing to an attack, and it was his moment of magic that broke the deadlock against Bournemouth, perfectly timing a back-heel to send Cesc Fabregas racing clear with Willian poised to tap in.

Defensively there were issues -- Adam Smith capitalised on his positional mistakes on a couple of occasions and Kenedy remains an unconvincing isolation defender -- even if his effort and commitment were never in doubt.

Try as he might, Kenedy remains light years away from Conte's Premier League team, and it would be no surprise to see him complete a long-mooted loan move to Newcastle once Chelsea sign another left-sided player in January.

Grade: B-

Danny Drinkwater

Having completed a full 90 minutes just once before Wednesday, it is clear that Drinkwater is still in the midst of his own personal preseason schedule.

Conte's determination to build Drinkwater's fitness slowly has never wavered despite injuries elsewhere in the Chelsea squad, and so simply remaining on the pitch for the duration of this Carabao Cup quarterfinal should be seen as a big step.

Never a flashy user of the ball, Drinkwater was solid rather than spectacular in a midfield tandem with Fabregas for the first time. What they brought in technique they lacked in dynamism, however, and Conte introduced Tiemoue Bakayoko on 61 minutes after recognising that his starters were being overrun.

Drinkwater has more to give, and will be able to as he edges closer to peak condition. Even then, though, pairing him with Fabregas might not be wise.

Grade: C+

Willy Caballero

Continuing the recent Chelsea tradition of highly experienced No. 2 goalkeepers, Caballero's only appearances since arriving at Stamford Bridge last summer have come in the Carabao Cup, the competition that provided the stage for his finest moment in a Manchester City shirt in 2016.

Caballero was acquired to be a safe, experienced pair of hands and has so far performed as advertised for Chelsea, even if Dan Gosling ensured that he is still waiting for his first clean sheet at his new club.

In truth, there wasn't much Caballero could do about Gosling's curler. Bournemouth's profligacy ensured he only had two other shots to save all night, but Caballero came and claimed a couple of corners as pressure mounted late on -- an area that has historically been a weakness for him.

Conte would be a brave man not to go with Thibaut Courtois in next month's two-legged semifinal battle with Arsenal, but Caballero has at least done enough to show that he can be counted upon to do a solid job.

Grade: B

Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.


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