Chelsea trio Cesc Fabregas, Marco van Ginkel and Michy Batshuayi all provided Antonio Conte with a timely reminder of their respective talents on Monday (21 November). The trio started alongside the likes of captain John Terry, Kurt Zouma, Ola Aina and Dominic Solanke in a strong development side that secured a late Premier League 2 victory over Southampton at Cobham.
Fabregas was left as an unused substitute against Middlesbrough on Sunday as Diego Costa's 10th goal of the season secured a sixth consecutive top-flight win and also fired the in-form first team to the summit of the Premier League, his first involvement in the senior matchday squad since that embarrassing defeat to Arsenal in September. While such an absence was largely due to a lingering thigh injury, the Spaniard is clearly behind the likes of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in the midfield pecking order, leading to suggestions that he could be set to leave Stamford Bridge when the transfer window re-opens for business in January.
Conte insists that Fabregas does have a viable future at Chelsea, however, and will have been heartened by the former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker's two assists against Southampton. Both were for Batshuayi, who cancelled out Olufela Olomola's opener after collecting possession and executing an effective turn before shifting the ball away from the defender and producing a low right-footed effort that beat goalkeeper Harry Lewis.
Batshuayi has scored just once in the Premier League since completing a £33m ($41.1m) move from Marseille in July to become Conte's first signing and will also be eager to prove himself, with the rejuvenated Costa in such a rich vein of scoring form. Not content with one goal for the U23s, he equalised again four minutes from time with a curling strike into the top corner after a goal from Josh Sims had taken a deflection off Terry and ensured that Chelsea trailed 2-1 at the interval.
Just as the match looked to be petering out into a draw, Van Ginkel boosted his credentials with an impressive stoppage-time winner dispatched from the edge of the penalty area after good work from substitute Dujon Sterling. The Dutch midfielder was prevented from rejoining PSV Eindhoven this summer due to a lingering knee issue and is expected to continue building his match fitness with the development team before likely becoming Chelsea's 39th loanee of the season.
Zouma, meanwhile, should now be primed for a return to the senior squad after a handful of appearances at this level. The French centre-back, who has not played a competitive match since damaging his anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United in February, is already back in first-team training and featured in a three-man defence against Southampton with Terry and Fikayo Tomori.
Chelsea entertain Tottenham Hotspur in a London derby on Saturday (26 November) before travelling to face title rivals Manchester City a week later. Both Zouma and Terry will find it very hard to force their way back into an impregnable backline that has yet to concede a single league goal since Conte switched to his favoured 3-4-3 system last month.