If not for the virus interruptus, Chelsea would be returning from an international break to face West Ham today. Let’s predict what Frank Lampard’s starting XI might have been.
Chelsea would have played one game in each of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup since defeating Everton 4 – 0 if football had been going on as usual (or even behind closed doors – any presentation of the sport would have sufficed). Many of the players would have then joined their national teams for an international, before the Premier League returned today with a London derby at West Ham. Taking a reasonable guess at what would have happened in those intervening games, here’s what the XI could have looked like.
Goalkeeper: Kepa Arrizabalaga
The battle for the No. 1 and No. 2 spot at Spain is about as much of a see-saw as it has been over the last few months for Chelsea. Kepa Arrizabalaga’s form and then time on the bench in February should have made life easy for David De Gea with the national team, but De Gea won’t make things easy on himself. They each had a chance to play for El Seleccion during the break, and it resolved exactly nothing. But at least for now, Arrizabalaga is Frank Lampard’s starting goalkeeper.
Right back: Reece James
Reece James is one of the starters from the reverse fixture to make his way into this starting XI.
The midfield pair will shield the centrebacks and cover the outside sufficiently to allow James as much time and forward movement as he needs to keep the Blues pushing on offence. West Ham will likely play deep and compact, which means James will look more like a winger than a full-back for most of the game. He and his teammates will just have to be vigilant that he doesn’t get over-sure of himself in trying to tackle away an incipient counterattack and put just a bit too much pressure on the rest of the defence.
Centreback: Fikayo Tomori
After a rather odd hiatus, Fikayo Tomori is back in the rotation, which means the centreback pairing is under constant rotation and re-evaluation as Frank Lampard still – here in Premier League match week 33 – tries to find his best unit.
Lampard is running out of combinations to test in a two- and three-man centreback schema, yet centrebacks are rarely in the transfer rumour mill, which points to the Blues buying a left back and Cesar Azpilicueta spends next season starting 44 games as centreback.
Centreback: Andreas Christensen
Andreas Christensen has been on a solid run of form lately, and he has not been paired with Tomori in a while, so why not give this pair a try? Perhaps the two will do enough that Lampard will keep them together for the rest of the season. At this point, “enough” is a pretty low bar if Chelsea can just get some consistency at the back.
Left back: Cesar Azpilicueta
The last two weeks were the usual injustice that Cesar Azpilicueta was not called up for Spain leavened by the relief that at least he was going to have two weeks off. With Lampard going for the 4-2-3-1 / 2-5-3 against West Ham, Azpilicueta sends Marcos Alonso to the bench while everyone refreshes their phone frequently to check the latest transfer rumours at left back.