There has been a lot of chatter over the last few days regarding the players who will and will not be available for Atletico Madrid for the Champions League Round of 16 clash with Chelsea. The La Liga club will be without some of its top players—including centerback Jose Gimenez—but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Blues have a walk in the park either. Unfortunately the door swings both ways, and while the visitors have gotten some positive news on the injury front, one of their most important individuals will be out for the first leg of this tie.
Chelsea got a positive update on Christian Pulisic and Kai Havertz—both of whom missed the weekend’s match against Southampton—as they will be available for selection. However, the Blues will be missing arguably their most important player in Thiago Silva.
Silva was not named to the 23-man matchday squad and did not travel with the team to Bucharest on Monday. The 36-year-old returned to training ahead of the Premier League game against Southampton, but failed to make the team for that bout, as well. Silva was subbed off late in the first half of the win at Tottenham after suffering a muscular injury. His return to training was a positive sign for Blues fans ahead of the biggest game of the season, but in the end, he was simply not fit enough to play, according to Thomas Tuchel.
The veteran defenders absence opens the door for other centerbacks to step in though. Luckily, Chelsea has two candidates with a plethora of experience who can slot in seamlessly for the Brazilian. Andreas Christensen replaced Silva in the Spurs match, and has played frequently while he is sidelined, but Kurt Zouma should be the one named to the starting XI against Atletico.
First and foremost, Zouma is simply the better of the two options. Although he’s been kicked down the pecking order in recent weeks, he’s arguably the second best defender the Blues have on their roster. The Frenchman brings with him a plethora of experience and adept footballing mind. He’s got the skill, strength and smarts to become one of the Premier League’s best; which we saw early in the season.
Further, his game is much more physical than that of Christensen. The Dane is known for going down easily and making silly mistakes semi-frequently. It’s easy to point out Zouma’s blunder against Southampton as a reason as to why he shouldn’t start against Atletico, but let’s not forget Christensen’s costly error on the biggest stage against Barcelona in 2018. You know, that one.
Chelsea is going to need every advantage it can get against its Spanish foes, especially in the absence of Silva. Zouma is better in the air, with the ball at his feet and with his back turned to goal. If there are things Christensen does better than Zouma, they’re minuscule traits. This is not meant to beat up on the 24-year-old either, he’s a fantastic defender on his day. Christensen has done a brilliant job at the back in Silva’s absence. However, Zouma is the more complete player and simply better suited to give the Blues an edge over Atletico.
Who would you like to see starting alongside Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!