Chelsea in 2021: Champions of Europe as Tuchel takes control
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Chelsea dropped another vital two points in the Premier League, but the desperation accompanying Thomas Tuchel into 2022 is not down to their lack of cutting edge in front of goal. Romelu Lukaku’s impeccable header in his first league start since spraining his ankle was cancelled out by an injury time header from Brighton and Hove Albion striker Danny Welbeck.
However, the usual jubilation and cheers accompanying the £98m mans were subdued by a preceding event which could derail the Blues’ title challenge.
Reece James, Chelsea’s indispensable wing-back and, arguably, their player of the season, sunk into the Stamford Bridge turf and put his hands over his head.
The England international may have been the one grimacing in pain, but Tuchel may have been the one suffering the most, as the German now has a real problem on his hands.
Chelsea’s Christmas spirit was completely dissipated by news that left-wing back Ben Chilwell will have to undergo surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament.
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It is an operation which will essentially bring down the curtain on Chilwell’s bright season, and further increase injury strain on Tuchel’s squad.
But the prospect of James facing a similar spell on the sidelines may very well force Tuchel’s and that of Marina Granovskaia’s hand.
Losing one of Chilwell and James is far from ideal, yet losing both to long-term injuries is the kind of moment which can change the face of their title challenge.
Chelsea’s squad is vastly layered with quality, experience, and variation, yet their sudden absence leaves them lacking attacking zip and defensive fortitude on the wings.
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Marcos Alonso is Chelsea’s only natural left wing-back, while Cesar Azpilicueta’s penetration and speed in the final third unfortunately does not match his determination and leadership.
Aside from the three points, the only positive arising from James’ injury is that it may force Chelsea and director Marina Granovskaia to act in the January transfer window.
Everton defender Lucas Digne appears to be a potential solution to fill the void left by Chilwell, while the possibility of recalling Emerson from his loan spell at Lyon has also been mentioned.
Chelsea tried to address their lack of depth in the wing-back areas in the summer, only for their pursuit of Achraf Hakimi to end with the Moroccan signing for Paris Saint-Germain.
Unfortunately, the January transfer window will not be any easier than their struggles in the summer to reinforce their backline.
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Aside from the well-documented difficulties of convincing both player and club to part ways in the middle of the season, Chelsea will need to convince any potential targets they are more than just a placeholder for Chilwell, and if the news is as bad as it could be, for James.
And if their situation was not difficult enough, the injuries to Chilwell and James may have handed even more leverage to the Blues’ stars who are currently locked in negotiations.
As things stand, Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, and Thiago Silva are all able to depart the club on a free transfer next season.
Rudiger’s future appears to be away from Stamford Bridge, while Azpilicueta has been courted by Barcelona in the preceding weeks before the window’s opening.
Chelsea’s troubling uncertainty in their defensive line is extremely disconcerting, and January may be the only time they can resolve the situation before it becomes a catastrophe.
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