Ben Chilwell’s potentially season-ending injury gives Thomas Tuchel a serious headache… Marcos Alonso is his ONLY fit left-back while flop Saul joined Chelsea because he HATED playing there for Atletico, so should they strengthen in January?
- Thomas Tuchel has confirmed Ben Chilwell has suffered a partial ACL injury
- The Chelsea left-back could miss up the rest of the season if he requires surgery
- Marcos Alonso is best placed to fill in but Tuchel can reassess plan in January
- Sportsmail looks at the options the German has faced with unwanted headache
Ben Chilwell has endured a year of extremes in 2021 but it took another turn for the worse in midweek after he suffered a partial ACL injury in Chelsea’s 4-0 Champions League win against Juventus.
Boss Thomas Tuchel confirmed Chelsea will wait six weeks to see if the left-back needs surgery which would threaten to end his season, but the German added: ‘We are very positive because the first reaction of his body is very positive.
‘Hopefully it stays like this and now the full focus from everybody is towards the next six weeks, bringing him back to the pitch and make him play.
Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell suffered a partial ACL injury against Juventus in midweek
It comes as a serious blow to Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel (centre) ahead of a busy period
‘This is the decision after all the examinations and is a very responsible decision so there so no rushing it and no pressure. This is the reasonable way to do it. So all the focus now is on the next six weeks.’
It was the latest incident in a topsy-turvy calendar year for the England international, who did not get on the pitch at Euro 2020 after playing a crucial role in Chelsea’s Champions League success last term.
Tuchel then preferred Marcos Alonso at the start of the new season because Chilwell – who only started only one of the club’s first 10 games – was not quite yet up to speed following his holiday after the Three Lions’ defeat by Italy.
The German boss would later reveal in September he believed Chilwell had been suffering from mental fatigue as a result of concerns about his lack of recent game time at club and international level.
Chilwell could be out for up to nine months if he requires surgery after six weeks have passed
But he was reinstated at the start of October and once more became a virtual ever-present for club and country, scoring three goals and recording one assist in six Premier League games.
Tuchel seemed to have a good thing going with Reece James shining on the other flank, and so this term the ex-Borussia Dortmund and PSG boss has only had to decide the unlucky members of the squad to be omitted for a matchday.
But the injury to former Leicester defender Chilwell – who could be out for between six to nine months if surgery is required – provides him with his first major undesired selection headache of the season less than a month away from the festive period.
Marcos Alonso (left) is best placed to fill in, having started as first-choice left-back this term
So how do Chelsea cope without him for at least the next six weeks? Well, Tuchel’s woes would be greatly exacerbated if the experienced Alonso was not available to slot in immediately for the short-term.
The 30-year-old Spaniard featured in Chelsea’s first six league games of the season – scoring once – but has since been restricted to performances in the Champions League and Carabao Cup only.
Alonso’s injury record at Chelsea means there is little cause for concern in that regard, and Tuchel will be crossing his fingers that remains the case until January swings around.
The wing-back also remains an incredibly effective attacking outlet for the Blues, but his defensive capabilities are not of the commensurate level, and that will concern Tuchel if they have to face title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City without Chilwell.
He remains an excellent attacking full-back but Tuchel may have doubts about him defensively
The European champions’ next league fixtures against Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s men come in January, when the transfer market would present him with the ability to strengthen that area.
So should Tuchel enter the market and add a third left-back option to his squad? After all, business conducted at the end of the last transfer window does give the German another option.
The Blues signed Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez on loan on deadline day in the summer, with the option to make the move permanent in the summer.
However, the Spain international has played just 252 minutes of football for the Blues this season and has failed to impress during his limited midfield opportunities ever since he was withdrawn at half-time on his debut against Aston Villa.
Loan flop Saul Niguez is another option, having failed to convince in limited midfield chances
The chance to feature regularly – albeit in an unnatural role – is surely better than sporadic minutes here and there, and having played as a full-back under Diego Simeone at Atletico, he certainly has some experience in that area.
He was commended for how he filled in there for the injured Filipe Luis and Lucas Hernandez for several weeks of the 2018-19 season, and said nothing out of the ordinary after starring in the role in a 1-1 draw against Sevilla that term.
‘Of course I’m keen to return to midfield and to feel comfortable in the centre, but the coach knows he can count on me to play any position,’ he said. ‘If he needs me at left-back then I’ll sacrifice myself for the team and I’ll play there.’
That temporary sacrifice however became more of a regular occurrence last season, when Simeone implemented and then adjusted a 3-5-2 formation in the Spanish capital club’s title-winning season.
But Saul was an undoubted loser in that formation, switching from a midfield position over to the left wing-back role to effectively cover for the loss of wingers further up the field due to the formation change.
But he revealed the reason he left Atletico Madrid was because he hated playing at full-back
The alteration clearly had a negative impact on Saul, who in an interview in early September – not long after his move to Chelsea – revealed he moved to Stamford Bridge because he felt ‘stuck’ playing as a full-back at Atletico.
‘When they [Chelsea] gave me the offer and they told me that it can be done, I told my agents I had to talk to my family,’ Saul said in an interview with the popular YouTuber Ibai Llanos on Twitch via MARCA.
‘Two days before, I told my wife that I was staying. I felt good at the team, as always.
‘The only thing is that I felt stuck because I wasn’t playing in my position. My head did not accept my new role of playing in a new position.
‘I have had several conversations with Cholo [Simeone] about my positions, because it’s not something new, I have been like this for three years.’
Whether therefore Saul would be willing to end his time being frozen out of the first-team picture to play in a position which he ‘did not accept’ in familiar settings at Atletico remains to be seen, especially since he claimed Chelsea promised him to play him in his favoured midfield position when he joined.
Reece James (left) could switch flanks, with Cesar Azpilicueta (right) filling in at right-back
England international James switching flanks could be a more left-field option, with club captain Cesar Azpilicueta then coming into the side to fill in on the right.
But Tuchel may be unwilling to move an inexperienced 21-year-old away from a position where he has become such a vital outlet for his club and from where he has scored five goals across all competitions this season, more than any other team-mate.
Trevor Chalobah and Malang Sarr are the only other potential options currently sat on the bench but they are both young and are more adept in the centre-back position.
Tuchel however could put his faith in another young player though in the form of Ian Maatsen. The 19-year-old has started 17 games on loan at Championship outfit Coventry City so far this term and would be able to be recalled.
However, the Dutchman’s only Blues appearance to date came in a 24-minute cameo against Grimsby Town in the third round of the League Cup in September 2019.
Ian Maatsen has impressed out on loan at Championship side Coventry and could be recalled
Moreover, Tuchel could be reticent to chuck a youngster who has yet to play in the Premier League in against opposition with the attacking quality of Liverpool and City in particular but also Tottenham, Brighton and Arsenal, all of whom the Blues face before mid-February.
Maatsen has also not had the experience of playing weekly at a club in Europe’s top five leagues a la Chalobah at Lorient, but on the flip side James’ only spell out on loan was at Wigan three seasons ago.
Emerson Palmeiri and Baba Rahman can also reportedly be recalled from their respective loans at Lyon and Reading, but at 27 years of age they have not been sent out on loan to gain experience but rather because Tuchel does not fancy them.
The best policy for the German boss nevertheless appears to be in crossing his fingers with Alonso’s fitness until January and then dip into the market to reinforce that area if Chilwell does require surgery.
Emerson Palmeiri (left) and Baba Rahman (right) could be recalled but are not fancied by Tuchel
Experienced Juventus full-back Alex Sandro, 30, could be an option with his deal set to expire in 2023 and would come relatively cheaply, while Brentford’s Rico Henry presents a younger option at 24 who is also familiar with the wing-back role having impressed there under Thomas Frank in recent weeks.
More potential high-profile targets such as AC Milan left-back Theo Hernandez and Everton’s Lucas Digne are unlikely to be prised away midway through the season, leaving a stop-gap option arguably as the best temporary fix.
James and Chilwell have been two examples along with Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool and Joao Cancelo at City this season about how crucial full-backs can be to sides that want to compete for the most high-profile trophies.
Who replaces Chilwell while he is out injured is therefore a decision Tuchel cannot take lightly, and one he must get right if the Premier League leaders are to continue their challenge for silverware on all fronts into 2022.
Rico Henry (left) and Alex Sandro (right) represent realistic January left-back targets
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