The Carabao Cup competition comes to Stamford Bridge tonight. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton take a close look at our tie against League Two opposition…


Chelsea and the six other Premier League clubs involved in European competition join the Carabao Cup party this week. It is the quickest route to Wembley for top-flight clubs and blocking the Blues’ way are Lincolnshire’s Grimsby Town, currently ninth in League Two. This is the furthest they have come in the competition since 2005/06, when they saw off Tottenham only to lose to Newcastle.

Five Premier league sides have already tumbled out, though Tottenham, Burnley, Newcastle, Norwich and Palace may ultimately find consolation in the space freed up in their calendar to pursue higher priorities.

Last year’s runners-up in the competition will be determined not to join them. The Blues are London’s first winners of the League Cup and the capital’s most successful club in this competition, with five successes. Highlights of the most recent are below...

Likewise the visitors. One of the Mariners’ sponsors is Young’s, the 214-year-old local seafood company credited with the invention of Scampi back in 1946. Tonight, though, they will be anxious to avoid a historic battering.

Chelsea have progressed to the fourth round or further in the League Cup in each of the past eight seasons. The Londoners’ most recent third-round departure was a dramatic 3-4 loss to Newcastle in 2010. The Blues also bowed out at home to Charlton after a shoot-out in 2005, and at Liverpool in 2000.

The last lower division side to end Chelsea’s interest at this stage of the competition was Championship Burnley in the fourth round in 2008 after extra-time and penalties at the Bridge.

The 11 matches against such opponents since then have all been won, the aggregate score being 36-10. Huddersfield in 1999 were the last Football League team to beat the Blues over 90 minutes in the League Cup.

Chelsea ring the team changes

Frank Lampard will understand the perils of playing lower league opposition. He had left the club before our last encounter with level four opposition in this competition – a 2-1 win at Shrewsbury in 2014 – but in January 2007 he came off the bench away to League Two Wycombe Wanderers, a semi-final first leg that ended in a 1-1 draw amid much criticism.

The head coach has reaffirmed his determination to win this tie, saying he will balance youth with senior squad members who need more minutes. (The Blues are also still looking for a first home win and clean sheet of the season, of course.)

2019 has already brought the youngest Premier League starting 11 in the club’s history, but that average age is unlikely to change tonight. While returning teenagers Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James are already confirmed to play, more established players such as Ross Barkley, Michy Batshuayi, Willy Caballero, Olivier Giroud and Pedro will all feel they have cases to press, as will Christian Pulisic.

Chelsea’s Academy system is arguably the best in the world, with five FA Youth Cup victories since 2014, two Under-18 Premier League titles, an U21 Premier League title (2014) and two UEFA Youth League wins.

So the senior team coaching staff will have been keeping a weather eye on high-achievers in the development squad including goalscoring midfielder Tino Anjorin, 17, goalkeeper Jamie Cumming, 20, scheming Scots centrist Billy Gilmour, 18, centre-half and skipper Marc Guehi, 19, and stylish attacking left-back Ian Maatsen, 17.

Coming up

Saturday’s visitors Brighton are also in Carabao Cup action this evening, hosting fellow Premier League opponents Aston Villa.

After beating West Ham in the Women’s League Cup last weekend, Emma Hayes’s Chelsea Women return to the WSL on Sunday with an away trip to ninth-placed Bristol City, a 3pm kick-off at Stoke Gifford Stadium.

A young Chelsea Under-21 side were edged out 1-2 by Bristol Rovers in the Trophy (the new name for the EFL Trophy) last night, but will hope to extend their unbeaten start to the Premier League 2 at Leicester’s Holmes Park ground on Saturday.

Will Grimsby grapple with expectations?

‘We understand that if we play Chelsea 1,000 times they’d probably beat us 999 times,’ Grimsby coach Michael Jolley suggested this week, ‘but we need to find the one in there that we can have some success with.’

Possibly with this evening’s team selection in mind, the Mariners’ only available centre-back Matthew Pollock started on the bench as they beat Macclesfield 1-0 last time out. Ludwig Ohman is injured, Harry Davis a doubt and Luke Waterfall cup-tied, having featured in this competition for former club, Shrewsbury.

Wide forward Moses Ogbu was also rested at the weekend but is expected to return alongside a frontman who will be ominously familiar to Blues fans. James Hanson played the full match as his hometown club Bradford City shocked Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team, winning 4-2 at the Bridge in the FA Cup back in January 2015.

While Chelsea must bear the pressure of being heavy favourites to win, let us not forget the burden of expectation on Town players too. Football requires the visitors to give an exceptional account of themselves in front of massed ranks who have made the journey from Cleethorpes. The 5,000 in the Shed tonight is slightly more than the average at Blundell Park this season.

To some degree, though, the EFL Trophy, recently remodelled to include Premier League development teams, has removed the culture clash when a much-changed club from the top two divisions takes on an experienced side from League One or Two. Since the changes in that competition, Grimsby have lost to the youngsters of Leicester and Newcastle, and bettered Sunderland in a penalty shoot-out.

Town recently lost an FA Cup match against Premier League Crystal Palace in January by a goal to nil, but as far as Chelsea-Grimsby is concerned, this is the first meeting since 1996 in the same competition.

Back then the Blues won 4-1, with Ruud Gullit a magisterial presence. ‘It’s why they are paid £10,000 a week,’ commented player-manager Brian Laws, ‘and we are paid £150.’

France scraps its League Cup

French football authorities have bid au revoir next season to their Coupe de la Ligue, equivalent to the League Cup, after failing to sell TV rights from 2020. The move will free up the calendar and provide more recovery time, as well as offer an additional UEFA place to a league team. Currently, the Coupe winners gain entry to Europa League qualifiers.England is the last of Europe’s top five leagues to retain a second domestic cup competition. Ours was introduced 1960, while the competition across the channel has only been around since 1994.

There are regular calls for the League Cup to go the way of the Texaco/Anglo-Scottish Cup (1970-81) or Full Members/Simod/Zenith Data Systems Cup (1985-1992) but sponsors are still found, matches televised and Wembley finals are virtual sell-outs, and big clubs such as Man City and Chelsea take it seriously.

Carabao Cup regulations

The Football League is keen to innovate and ensure the Carabao Cup remains fit for purpose. To ease the demands on players there are again no extra-time periods in the Carabao Cup this season apart from the final. It follows that only three substitutes can be used up to then, and four should there be extra-time at Wembley.

There are no replays and the away goals rule does not apply. Should the game be all square at the final whistle, the winners will be decided on penalty kicks in the ABAB format.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system will be used in fixtures played at Premier League stadiums. Grimsby’s first experience of VAR, in an FA Cup game at Crystal Palace in January, was not a happy one. A yellow card shown to Andrew Fox inside two minutes was escalated to red on review, leaving them with 10 men for 88 minutes.

Yellow cards count only in the competition in which they are awarded.

For those teams making it through, the draw for round four of the Carabao Cup will take place live on Sky Sports tonight following the conclusion of the MK Dons-Liverpool match.

Read: The key stats ahead of the game

Please note: Audio commentary is unavailable for this match due to Football League rights restrictions. Live text commentary is available in the Match Centre. Audio commentary will be back on Saturday for our game against Brighton.