Injuries are finally beginning to impact Chelsea’s form

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Ben Chilwell of Chelsea reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at The King Power Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Leicester, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20: Ben Chilwell of Chelsea reacts after a missed chance during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at The King Power Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Leicester, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images) /

Injuries are inevitable. Injuries to players are one of the worst aspects of competitive sports, especially when key players go down, resulting in long-term absences. Liverpool is no stranger to this concept after an extensive absentee list kept the Reds from challenging from a second consecutive Premier League crown last season. This is just one of the most recent examples in football. Chelsea found this out the hard way, as well, when Ben Chilwell’s ACL problem put a damper on the team’s incredible 4-0 win over Juventus in the Champions League. This was one of the many knocks a Blues player picked up during a victory in the competition this year.

Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner infamously exited the win over Malmo with injuries that sidelined them for a number of weeks. Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea have been able to navigate these absences—as well as others—fairly well until recently. An odd draw with Burnley, a disappointing tie with Manchester United and now an abysmal showing at Watford (albeit a victory) are cause for concern as the injuries begin to pile up. Injury issues within the squad are now beginning to take their toll on the Blues’ performances and overall form.

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Injuries are finally beginning to take their toll on Chelsea’s performances

The most glaring issue in the contest with Watford was the midfield. Tuchel named Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Saul Niguez in the midfield pivot for the midweek clash. While the former has enjoyed a bit of a career revival this season, he was not ready to be thrown to the wolves at Vicarage Road. Loftus-Cheek struggled to get involved in the game and put in his worst performance of the year. Nevertheless, his failures pale in comparison to his Spanish counterpart. Saul didn’t have any impact on the match whatsoever, despite playing in the demanding ‘Jorginho role.’ The Atletico Madrid loanee only made a handful of passes and his inability to get involved allowed Watford to press the Blues aggressively when off the ball. Saul was subsequently taken off the pitch after 45 horrendous minutes for the second time in as many league starts.

The fact of the matter is Tuchel had no real option other than to play the aforementioned pairing in midfield though. Hindsight reveals that a plethora of players—such as Trevoh Chalobah, Mason Mount and perhaps even Ross Barkley—would’ve been better suited for these roles on the night. However, Loftus-Cheek and Saul seemed to be the sensible options going into the contest.

How did the Blues get here though? Injuries.

Chelsea’s physios have been busy over the last few weeks, desperately trying to get individual players back up to speed. Chilwell is out for the next month at absolute best, Mateo Kovacic has missed the last nine matches due to a muscular problem, N’Golo Kante recently picked up a knock, as did Jorginho and Reece James wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets either. That’s just the midfield. Kai Havertz, Lukaku, Mason Mount and Werner are also trying to find their footing after recent stints on the sideline. If that wasn’t bad enough, Trevoh Chalobah left the game against Watford early in the second half with a hamstring problem. The Blues were lucky to see Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech complete the 90 minutes after injury scares of their own.

The growing list of injuries could not have come at a worse time either. Chelsea is rounding the corner into the winter fixture list that includes numerous games per week. The December through February slog is relentless in the English top flight and its complementary European and domestic competitions. The Blues barely made it through a trip to Watford with a fit matchday 18 and they now turn around to travel to West Ham in two days’ time.

Constant, unplanned rotation in the starting XI means there is no cohesion within the team. Tuchel is being forced to plug and play, all while constantly shifting the tactics, which explains the sluggish performances as of late. The poor showings are nothing new either. The entirety of matches played between November until December 1 were relatively bad from the Blues aside from two fantastic wins over Leicester City and Juventus. Otherwise, Chelsea’s CV includes an uninspiring win over Malmo (1-0), a draw with Burnley (1-1), a draw with Man United (1-1) and a lucky victory over Watford on Wednesday (2-1).

It’s good that the Blues are at least coming away with something from these games—and that speaks to the quality in the team—but the intensity is dropping at an alarming rate. Chelsea needs to regroup ahead of some of the season’s most crucial fixtures. Tuchel will be on his knees praying for a swift return for anyone in midfield, the likes of Jorginho and Kovacic seemingly being the most important. The current way in which the Blues are playing is not sustainable. Thiago Silva, as reliable as he has been, cannot be featuring in three games per week at the age of 37.

Tuchel is going to need to reach into his top hat and pull out a rabbit over the next few weeks as he attempts to magically guide this side through a tough run without some huge names. The German gaffer needs to at least stay afloat in the title race for another month before he is reinforced by either recalled loanees or new names from the transfer market. The Man United and Watford matches have gone a long way in exposing the Blues’ vulnerabilities playing without some key individuals in the starting XI. This needs sorted out or Chelsea can say goodbye to a title race.

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