Chelsea fans were buzzing on Tuesday evening after one of the most impressive performances of the young season. The Blues followed up their 3-0 victory at the King Power Stadium with a 4-0 thrashing of Juventus at Stamford Bridge. The resounding victory saw them move into the top spot in Group H and put the west Londoners on the brink of securing a place in the Round of 16 as a group winner. Chelsea had just handed the Italian giants their worst loss in any competition since 2004 and yet, the mood was not as celebratory as it should’ve been. Quickly after securing the three points, the tone shifted to one of concern after the Blues lost two key players to injury during the duration of the contest.
N’Golo Kante came off in the first half with what appeared to be a relatively minor knock. There are still no updates on that, but Chelsea is well equipped to deal with life without Kante for a short period of time. However, the Blues are facing an unfortunate reality now that they may be without Ben Chilwell for the remainder of the year. The wingback picked up a knee injury in the middle of the second half—one that appears to be a serious ACL issue. Chilwell is confirmed to be out for the remainder of the calendar year and at such time, the club will reevaluate the progress of his knee before making any further decisions. Nevertheless, if manager Thomas Tuchel makes specific demands regarding the short-term future of the position in the meantime, the club must deliver.
It goes without saying the 24-year-old represents the long-term future of the left wingback spot. Chilwell is one of the best young fullbacks in all of world football. He’s been integral to the success of Tuchel’s Chelsea since making the transition into the left wingback role from his previous role as a left back upon the German’s arrival in January. Tuchel’s tactical evolution has seen him utilize the attack-minded English wingbacks at his disposal and they surely haven’t let their manager down in the process. In 20 games thus far this year, the Blues have scored 43 goals and allowed just eight. The pairing of Chilwell and Reece James alone has contributed eight goals and six assists. This means the two wingbacks have combined to play a part in 32 percent (14 of 43) of the team’s goals scored this campaign. Calling Chilwell instrumental is an understatement.
Nevertheless, as the Blues prepare for some of their toughest fixtures of the season, they will have to do so without one of their brightest stars. This is not to say Chelsea will be without a plethora of options going forward, it’s just simply stating that these individuals have some gigantic shoes to fill in Chilwell’s absence.
Marcos Alonso represents the most sensible option to step up after he started the season brilliantly. The Spaniard took fans back to 2016/17 with his impressive form barging forward, but also with his solid defensive positioning. Alonso has been one of the world’s best wingbacks for the last few years, Chilwell just offers that little bit extra at both ends of the pitch. Obviously though, the 30-year-old cannot start the 40-odd games left in the current campaign. Things get a bit tricky from here. Cesar Azpilicueta, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Saul Niguez all represent viable back-up options to Alonso while Chilwell is out. Furthermore, Chelsea has a handful of alternatives out on loan in Emerson and Ian Maatsen. If none of these players tickle Tuchel’s fancy, the Chilwell injury occurred at a rather opportune time. That may sound grim as there is never truly a good time for an injury, but if one of the Blues’ most important players was to sustain a long-term injury, I’m certain Tuchel would rather it happen before the midseason transfer window.
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Managers in years past have made demand after demand as it relates to signing players they are keen to bring in based on the system they play. Antonio Conte’s acquisition of players like Alonso and Davide Zappacosta represent some of the most recent examples. However, a problem arises when the manager in question moves on and these players are left at the club, forced to try and adapt to whichever position the new head coach brings with him. Supporters saw this with players like Emerson and Zappacosta in recent years. This is why Chelsea was so hesitant to deliver Gonzalo Higuain to Maurizio Sarri and why it didn’t allow Frank Lampard to sign Declan Rice. Regardless, the club needs to put all of its eggs in one basket with the current manager.
Tuchel has proven over the last 10 months that he can transform the club into a European footballing dynasty. He took over a struggling squad midseason last year and turned them into Champions League winners. Tuchel has his side looking like the best in the world right now as it sits atop the Premier League and its Champions League group, having already secured the UEFA Super Cup. The Blues are still alive in five competitions and the opportunity to win six trophies in a single season does not come around very often. No matter what the club’s hierarchy thinks about the long-term future, if Chilwell is set to miss the remainder of the year, it needs to deliver on Tuchel’s wishes in the new year. There will undoubtedly be reservations about potentially dipping into the market to bring in a new left wingback to fill in during Chilwell’s absence, but if the German demands it, he needs to be backed.
The reality of the situation is it’ll take a few weeks for Tuchel to determine what his plan is going forward at the position. He has an abundance of riches at his disposal in the meantime. Chances are he’ll roll with the punches, lace up his boots and work with the team he’s already got. On the off chance he does ask for some money to spend in January though, Roman Abramovich needs to open up his checkbook and deliver the goods. If he does so, Tuchel will surely deliver on his promises to return Chelsea to the upper echelons of European football for years to come.
How do you think the Blues should handle the Chilwell situation? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!