Chelsea will have received a boost ahead of the Porto match with the news that all players are available. No injuries, no suspensions, just availability.
Of course, that’s just on paper. In practice, things could and probably should look different. Chelsea absolutely needs a reaction after the embarrassment that was the West Brom match but the Blues still have plenty of depth to deal with a slightly weakened Porto side. A win is necessary as part of that reaction and it would go a long way in these two legs, but Thomas Tuchel can’t lose sight of the big picture with his team selections either.
The main two players that were a concern are N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic. The former returned early from break with injury and the latter came off at the half on the weekend. Both would likely be in starting contention if fully fit. They shouldn’t be considered for that however.
Kante’s been injured on and off again for the last few seasons. Often times, this has come with rushing him back too soon and reinjuring the same muscles. It is very hard to justify benching Kante when he is available, especially after the shift Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho put in on Saturday, but it is in Chelsea’s best interests to spare Kante as much as possible for the run in.
Pulisic’s story is similar with a few more twists. It is said that his substitution on the weekend was precautionary but is it really worth risky a player that has been extremely injury prone with Chelsea? It would be one thing if Pulisic was playing to the level Kante was around his injuries, but the American has truly struggled to find any sort of rhythm. In the same vein as Kante, it would likely be ideal to rest Pulisic as much as possible in the short term so that he might be available for the long term. Plus, it is not as though Tuchel doesn’t have plenty of alternatives besides Pulisic.
Another thing to consider is that there won’t be much competition for places on the bench. The Champions League bench is extended so pretty much the entire first team squad will have a seat if Tuchel offers it. Plus, there are five substitutions in the Champions League so Tuchel can be pretty flexible in regards to who starts and who is on the bench.
Another thing to consider will be Thiago Silva’s Premier League suspension. He won’t be available for Crystal Palace, so on paper it might make sense to start him against Porto. At the same time, he is just coming off injury and, even with his teammates leaving him out to dry, he didn’t have a particularly good time against West Brom. Porto could be a moment for him to rebound but there might be a concern of too much too soon after his injury.
Regardless of who plays and who doesn’t, the goal will have to be returning to “home” in the second leg with a decent “away” goal lead. The Blues have more than enough to do so, but then again, so did Juventus before Porto knocked them out. Chelsea needs a reaction after West Brom and they can not afford to repeat it.