Chelsea’s pre-season gets a little more real this evening as Thomas Tuchel takes his squad down to the south coast for a friendly against Championship side Bournemouth.
The Blues’ opening two warm-up games – a 6-1 victory over Peterborough United and an intra-squad friendly that ended 1-1 – were played behind closed doors. It will be very different tonight.
Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium may not be completely full, but there will be thousands in attendance for the match, which kicks off at 7.45 pm. There will be a collection of Chelsea supporters in the away end, too, something which hasn’t happened since prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The match has perhaps taken on greater importance in the context of the Blues’ pre-season after last week’s friendly against Irish side Drogheda United was cancelled after one of the Chelsea staff tested positive for coronavirus.
At the very least, it will give Tuchel and his coaching staff a greater appreciation of the fitness levels of his squad, which has been back at work for a fortnight.
But there are likely to be several other important takeaways from the friendly for the Chelsea head coach, including these six…
N’Golo Kante, Kurt Zouma, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Antonio Rudiger and Mateo Kovacic were all back at Cobham on Saturday after their holidays. Kenedy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi, all of whom spent last season out on loan, also returned.
The nine undertook light training on Saturday and have stepped up the intensity of their work over the last couple of days. Whether they are ready to be thrown into match action is a different story.
football.london has been told that it’s highly unlikely the group of players that returned for pre-season on Saturday feature at the Vitality. And that will give several players another chance to impress Tuchel in a match situation.
Over the next ten days, Chelsea’s first-team squad will begin to look far more familiar. Several players, such as Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Jorginho, and Thiago Silva, will make their way back for pre-season from their respective holidays.
Their returns will, inevitably, mean Tuchel has to cut players from his first-team group, which has largely consisted of players who spent last season out on loan.
Tonight’s game on the south coast may help him make his decisions.
Can Sterling continue to rise?
Chelsea went into this summer window looking to sign a new right-sided player. Achraf Hakimi was top of the club’s list but the Moroccon ended up signing for Paris Saint-Germain in a deal worth in excess of £60million.
Reports of a move for Adama Traore remain, but Chelsea may already have an in-house solution: Dujon Sterling.
The 21-year-old, who enjoyed incredible success at academy level, endured a tough 2020 in which he suffered from injury and illness. But after building himself back up during the second half of last season with the club’s under-23s, Sterling has caught the eye in pre-season.
His blistering pace has returned, and the gym work he undertook during his comeback has given him greater physical strength. He is a natural for the wing-back role and can highlight that to the Chelsea head coach yet again this evening.
How is the Ruben renaissance progressing?
Fulham fans will be quick to tell you that Ruben Loftus-Cheek didn’t have a great 2020/21 campaign. The 25-year-old scored just once – a deflected goal against Everton – for his loan club, as they suffered relegation from the Premier League once again.
Yet in the most important way, Loftus-Cheek’s loan was a success. He made more than 30 appearances for Fulham and regained confidence in his body, something hugely important given he lost more than a year of his career after suffering an Achilles injury in May 2019.
“I felt it was the most important thing for me at that time,” he told Chelsea’s website. “I came back from injury, didn’t feel myself, [didn’t feel] powerful.
“I wasn’t running past people and I felt I’d lost a lot of muscle and power. So I felt I needed to get away and play as much as possible. And it got that.”
Loftus-Cheek returned to Chelsea for pre-season two weeks ago and football.london has been told that Tuchel has liked what he’s seen from the academy graduate in training and in the friendly matches thus far.
Bournemouth will be a step up for Loftus-Cheek but a strong performance will certainly give him every chance of being incorporated into the first-team set up this season.
Can Hudson-Odoi thrive off the left?
Speak to anyone who has been around the Chelsea camp during the opening fortnight of pre-season and they’ll tell you the same thing: Callum Hudson-Odoi has looked sharp, really sharp.
The 20-year-old used his summer – his first proper break since the summer of 2018 – to relax and then work on himself in the gym. It’s paid off. The burst of acceleration that defined Hudson-Odoi’s game at youth level is said to have returned, as has his confidence when running at opponents.
After Tuchel arrived in January, Hudson-Odoi played predominantly at right wing-back. He did a solid job in the role but it’s not the one in which he built his reputation as one of European football’s outstanding young talents.
Hudson-Odoi is a winger and one that thrives coming in off the left flank. He has featured in that role in pre-season and the hope is Tuchel will use him in that role at the Vitality this evening to get a fair read on exactly how season-ready the academy graduate is.
Who is ready to lead the line?
Assuming Tuchel sticks with his tried and trusted 3-4-2-1 shape on the south coast, and there is little reason to suggest he won’t, then there will be central striking role up for grabs.
Given his seniority, it’s likely Tammy Abraham starts the game. And the 23-year-old will be doing all he can to prove to Tuchel he has a role to play in his squad during the 2021/22 campaign, especially if Chelsea don’t end up signing a certain Norwegian.
Armando Broja is also expected to get minutes. The 19-year-old, who signed a new five-year deal with Chelsea last week, is enjoying a strong pre-season: he scored and assisted in the win over Peterborough United and was on target in the intra-squad friendly played in Ireland.
He will hope to maintain that form at the Vitality given there are noises he could be incorporated into Tuchel’s first-team plans.
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Source by Football London