Baba, Loftus-Cheek, Traore and Kenedy need Chelsea chance
Chelsea's new found resilience under interim manager Guus Hiddink has seen the London club remain unbeaten in all competitions since the Dutchman replaced Jose Mourinho in December.
At face value the statistic is admirable, but the slightest scrutiny tells a different story. Hiddink's apparent emphasis on avoiding defeat rather than winning games has brought just two Premier League victories, both away from home, and a series of dramatic draws at Stamford Bridge.
Yes, Chelsea have inched away from the relegation zone, but there was an element of desperation to the last-gasp draws scratched against Everton and Manchester United.
The Blues now face a Newcastle United side entrenched in a battle to avoid the drop and they would probably settle for a point if offered to them beforehand. The Magpies were the league's biggest spenders in the January transfer window, spending circa £28 million, and last week's 1-0 home win over West Brom was evidence enough that boss Steve McClaren has succeeded in tightening things up at the back and digging in for victory.
Given Hiddink's preference for pairing the match-stifling duo of John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic in Chelsea's midfield engine room, all things being equal, the game with Newcastle bears all the hallmarks of mind-numbing draw. The Blues' recent scoreless draw away to Watford springs to mind.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope for supporters attending the game who are hoping to be entertained beyond Chelsea's curious announcement there will be a prematch firework display and a free bottle of beer each. That is, of course, the fact the Blues return to Champions League action on Tuesday.
A trip to Paris to renew acquaintances with runaway Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain means Hiddink needs to think carefully about his team selection for the Newcastle game. Winning the Champions League may seem a ridiculously tall order, but as things stand right now, Chelsea have a better chance of triumphing in the final than finishing in one of the top four berths that would guarantee a place in Europe's elite competition next season.
Given the critical importance of playing in the Champions League and mindful of the season-ending injury to centre-back Kurt Zouma sustained in the Manchester United game, Hiddink may decide to rotate his squad against Newcastle, opting to protect certain players he perceives to be key to Chelsea's chances of coming away from Paris with a positive result.
Hiddink's over-cautious stance in the Premier League has brought with it a reluctance to start younger players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Bertrand Traore and Baba Rahman. Interestingly enough, Loftus-Cheek and Baba both played the full 90 minutes in Chelsea's most emphatic win of the season, the recent 5-1 FA Cup thrashing of MK Dons.
Traore came off the bench to play the final 30 minutes against MK, marking his appearance with a goal. While Kenedy didn't feature in this game, he has shown enough quality when given chances earlier in the season to convince avid watchers that he is the real deal.
There is little in the way of risk associated with starting the likes of Loftus-Cheek, Baba, Traore and Kenedy against Newcastle. Stamford Bridge has long since lost its aura of invincibility, and McClaren's team will approach the game with no fear. Hiddink needs his side to be 100 percent committed to the game and not take a half-hearted approach because of concerns about picking up a knock or two ahead of the PSG match.
Concerns about the quartet's lack of Premier League experience should be parked to one side by Hiddink. Zouma, just 20, had made the centre-half position his own prior to being injured, and Loftus-Cheek, Baba, Traore and Kenedy will not be fazed by facing a team like Newcastle.
At the turn of the year, Hiddink stated he would not "hesitate whenever possible to bring the youngsters in." Well, now the opportunity has presented itself once more to do just that.
Free beer and fireworks are OK, but Chelsea supporters would rather see enterprising football played at Stamford Bridge; something that has been in woefully short supply in SW6 this season and something many of them believe the youngsters will provide.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.