Chelsea’s wingback approach in the transfer window is flawed

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Emerson of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on August 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Emerson of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on August 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images) /

Chelsea looks to have successfully made it out of its club-wide Coronavirus crisis relatively unharmed. The Blues were one of the first teams in the English top division with widespread COVID-19 cases within their ranks, causing them to field weak or incomplete teams against both Everton and Wolves. One of the factors that made this outbreak so tough to endure in west London was the plethora of injuries that had already diminished Thomas Tuchel’s ranks. While the squad was able to successfully navigate its way around one issue over time, the transfer window looks to be Chelsea’s knight in shining armor as it relates to the injury issues.

The position undoubtedly hit hardest by injuries has been that of the wingbacks. Ben Chilwell is out for the remainder of the year after undergoing successful ACL surgery while Reece James is set to be sidelined for six to eight weeks with a hamstring tear. The English duo was taking the Premier League by storm this year en route to becoming one of the most lethal wingback pairings in all of world football. Now, Marcos Alonso has had to step in at left wingback and Tuchel has taken a ‘wingback by committee‘ approach to fill James’ shoes. The latter is similar to putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, but the solution doesn’t need to be perfect for the long-term seeing as James will return in a number of weeks. Alonso, on the other hand, needs some assistance on the left. The Blues’ approach to transfers thus far has been flawed though.

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Chelsea is using backwards logic right now when making transfer decisions relating to both its left and right wingback positions

Chelsea was expected to make a number of moves at the beginning of the transfer window, but as we creep into mid-January, it is currently fumbling the bag. The wingback pairing of Alonso and Azpilicueta is serviceable with some flaws. These were apparent against Liverpool, mainly on the left. The Blues’ wingbacks haven’t been tested since then as they played a back four against Spurs and with inverted wingbacks (Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech) versus Chesterfield. As Spurs (again . . . twice) and Manchester City wait their turn, there is an ominous feeling that Tuchel is about to find out about his club’s mistake, not pulling the trigger earlier in the window.

Timing aside, it seems as if Chelsea’s whole wingback transfer strategy is backasswards right now. Marina Granovskaia and Co. have spent weeks trying to recall Emerson Palmieri from his loan at Lyon in order to fill the void left by Chilwell’s injury. While Emerson is a talented player, the left wingback spot needs a long-term solution right now, not a stopgap. The right wingback spot is the one the Blues should be focused on bringing in a temporary solution for this month. They should look for a short-term replacement while waiting for James to recover from his injury. Instead, they are doing the complete opposite for both positions.

The left wingback position needs long-term attention for multiple intertwined reasons. The first is Alonso’s age. He is currently 31 years old. Alonso cannot be expected to take on the role of his fellow countryman Pedri, who played in almost every game for Barcelona last season. He needs some cover and someone who will push him for that spot. Lucas Digne seemed like the perfect individual to challenge for the starting spot in both a back three or back four. Everton has made it very clear that the Frenchman is available. Yet, the Blues are going to sit and wait for Lyon to decide whether or not a loanee can return to his parent club. Recalling Emerson without viewing him as a suitable option at left wingback for the future is also a mistake due to Alonso’s contract situation. The Spaniard has one year remaining on his current deal this summer. Given the fact he’ll turn 32 next season, whether or not Chelsea will re-sign him is still up in the air.

However, perhaps the biggest reason for bringing in a long-term replacement is because of Chilwell’s health. ACL injuries—and the subsequent surgeries—are incredibly difficult to come back from in a short time. For many footballers, it takes months or years to get back to pre-injury form. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are excellent examples of this, even though they suffered other muscular injuries. Chilwell has a bright future ahead, but he’s already expected to miss some time at the beginning of next year and that’s not even accounting for the time it’ll take for the Englishman to get back to match fitness. Chelsea needs a competitive left wingback replacement in the meantime. The Blues should let Emerson stay at Lyon, who could potentially buy him this summer, and worry about sales at another time. Focus on the moment.

On the other side of things, Chelsea is said to be eyeing options for the right wingback role. The elephant in the room is the fact that Azpilicueta currently deputizes James in the position and he’s out of a contract in five months as things stand. Nevertheless, with the youngster returning in a number of weeks, the position isn’t currently in dire need of bodies like its counterpart on the left. Azpilicueta is certainly not as impactful as James, he’s no slouch either though. In the meantime, Christian Pulisic has put in decent shifts at the position too. Even then, there’s no sense in spending £20 million on a player like Sergino Dest unless the Blues plan on having him play on both sides. They are much better off in the long run just recalling Dujon Steling, who was in line to potentially make Tuchel’s first team after a spectacular preseason run.

In conclusion, Chelsea’s current outlook on the wingback roles is flawed. The Blues’ decision makers need to do a complete 180-degree turn and prioritize the left side over the right, keeping their long-term interests at heart in this move. If not, this window reeks of a last minute Davide Zappacosta-esque deal being made by Chelsea, which would be a step in the wrong direction.

Next. Chelsea transfer roundup 1 January to 9 January 2022. dark

How do you think the Blues should fill the holes at the wingback positions? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!