The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for Chelsea supporters. The team was struggling tremendously before Frank Lampard’s sacking and qualifying for either of next season’s European competitions looked like a pipe dream. Now, since Thomas Tuchel arrived in west London, the results have improved greatly and there is an air of positivity around the club.
Still, some of the Blues’ most recent performances have left something to be desired. Chelsea was in complete control for nearly 90’ against both Sheffield United and Barnsley, yet only managed to win by a single goal both times. Going back even further to the Tottenham match, the team missed multiple opportunities that would have ended any chance of a Spurs comeback early on. A specific area of concern that has flown under the radar during this recent run of form has been the poor play of Chelsea’s centerbacks.
Tuchel’s formation change to a back three has definitely strengthened the defense as a whole, but there have been some individual moments of near calamity that almost turned victories into draws. If the Blues are going to be serious contenders for a top four finish, this needs to change quickly.
Perhaps the most surprising adjustment that Tuchel has made during his time at the Bridge has been dropping Kurt Zouma in favor of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. Zouma was arguably Chelsea’s best player under Lampard, combining his incredible athleticism and heading ability to become a dominant presence in the air both offensively and defensively. Despite having been dropped for every Premier League match under Tuchel, Zouma is still the highest scoring defender in the English top flight with four goals.
Since being re-inserted to the starting XI, both Rudiger and Christensen have struggled and made serious individual mistakes. The German international’s hilarious own goal against the Blades was a particularly low moment and the Dane was replaced at halftime against Barnsley following a Phil Jones-esque attempted clearance from his stomach that led to a dangerous counter. These two have been borderline detrimental since returning to the defensive rotation, and they are going to cost Chelsea important points if they continue to take the field.
Speaking honestly, both Rudiger and Christensen need to be sold over the summer. Not only will this raise money for other signings, but it will give the countless young Chelsea defenders—who are out on loan right now—a chance to prove themselves in the first team. Marc Guehi, Malang Sarr, Ethan Ampadu and Fikayo Tomori, just to name a few, have all been standouts at their respective clubs this season, but their development is being hampered by dead weight. If these talented youngsters are to reach their full potential, they need a chance to become regulars in the squad.
Looking at other recruitment options, a number of high-profile central defenders have been made available in the transfer market. Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano are both rumored to be on the move, and early reports are saying neither will cost more than €50 million to be had. Additionally, the Blues could attempt to replicate the success of the Thiago Silva signing by acquiring Sergio Ramos after his Real Madrid contract expires in June.
Overall, the centerback situation at Chelsea is not dire yet. The team is playing well and has not conceded a goal to an opposing player in five consecutive matches. Silva’s imminent return from injury will also bring back some semblance of stability. However, continuously deploying Rudiger and Christensen is an accident waiting to happen. They have both been loyal servants to the club and will be remembered fondly by supporters, but it is simply time for a change.