Chelsea is blessed with four good center backs. But that causes its own headaches when all four are starting quality depending on the day.
Once David Luiz departed because competing for time is “hard” (or whatever reason he decided on ex post facto), Chelsea was left with four first team center backs: Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Kurt Zouma, and Fikayo Tomori.
The hierarchy between the four also seemed clear at the time. Rudiger (when fit) was a locked on starter. Seemingly Christensen as well. Zouma would take the center back spot on the bench and Tomori would play when the situation demanded it.
That went out of the window almost immediately. Rudiger spent a long time out and Tomori turned up as a polished star in the making. Zouma bounced back from initial struggles to become one of Frank Lampard’s most trusted players. Only Christensen seemed on the outside looking in. Now the current situation is all four seemingly have a claim to a starting role and the best pair is at its least clear all season.
Christensen’s situation is the strangest of the four. On paper, he has the most potential to be a star but he struggles to show it consistently. Perhaps Lampard thought the same which is why he has only really had a role in the past few weeks. He has done much better in recent performances too which gives Lampard a great deal of food for thought.
Rudiger is probably in the next strangest situation. His injury after injury set him behind earlier in the season. Since his return he has been okay, but has not been quite the savior some expected. He is still incredibly solid overall, but there is a sense that there is much more to come.
Zouma follows as he is consistently a good player but he struggles to reach the levels of greatness. Lampard trusts him above almost any other outfielder and the consistency is a big reason as to why. But it already feels as if Zouma can touch his ceiling which will ultimately hold him back.
Finally there is Tomori who is arguably the revelation of the season. Few would have predicted that, of all the youth, he would step into his position as incredibly as he has. He still has the mistakes that plagued his game pre Derby County, but it is hard to argue against him being Chelsea’s best center back this season.
Then there is the question as to who starts. With only two spots for four players, Lampard has decisions to make. There is no clear partnership that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is also not really a position managers typically want to chop and change. The more consistent a pairing, the stronger a defense generally is overall.
There is also the matter of the Nathan Ake rumors. Mind, Ake is versatile and can play in several positions but his main position is at center back. If he comes in, that makes five players for two spots unless someone leaves.
Lampard could be planning on using a back three more often. The addition of Ake and a more permanent switch to a back three would make five center backs for three positions virtually the same as four for two positions. It still remains a bit unclear as to what profile and attributes Lampard favors for his back line.
This is not a bad problem to have; it is more of a tricky situation. When every player for a position is good enough to start, it is hard to justify not playing them for long. It is also hard to justify consistently dropping starters (especially at the back) to rotate players in.
With all four beginning to fire on all cylinders (and possibly a fifth on the way), Lampard will be tested to juggle the bodies well enough to keep everyone happy.