The third chapter of Chelsea’s 2021/22 season begins on Saturday. The trip to Brentford begins a run of seven matches in 21 days for Thomas Tuchel and his players. It’s a sprint that will likely set the tone for the remainder of the campaign.
Reel off victory after victory and the Blues will not only be top of the Premier League table by the time the next international break rolls around in November, but they will also be in a strong position to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage in addition to reaching the next round of the Carabao Cup.
Given the relentless nature of Chelsea’s schedule, Tuchel will have to utilise the depth of his squad. So there will be opportunities in the first team for those who need them.
And here we identify four players who will be looking to prove a point to the Blues head coach after the international break.
The opening weeks of the campaign were not easy for Chilwell. Having returned late for pre-season after being part of the England squad for Euro 2020 – not that he played – the 25-year-old found himself behind Marcos Alonso in the pecking order.
Chilwell featured in just three of Chelsea’s opening 10 matches – and only one of those appearances was a start. But he was restored to the side against Southampton prior to the international break. It was an opportunity to impress and the England international largely did so, although conceding a penalty for a foul on Tino Livramento was a mark against him.
That appearance was enough for Chilwell to regain his place in the England side – he started and scored as the Three Lions defeated Andorra 5-0. He returned to Chelsea today (Thursday) and will hope to keep his place in the starting XI for the clash against Brentford.
Alonso, who enjoyed a strong international break of his own, will be pushing Chilwell hard but the former Leicester City defender will hope that he can re-establish himself as the first-choice left wing-back under Tuchel.
Signed on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid on deadline day, the Spaniard was expected to be Chelsea’s fourth-choice midfielder this season. As things stand, however, he finds himself behind N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and even Ross Barkley, who was thrown on ahead of Saul against Juventus and Southampton.
Part of the reason for that is the two performances produced by the 26-year-old in a Chelsea shirt. His debut against Aston Villa in the Premier League resulted in a half-time substitution. His second against the same opposition in the Carabao Cup lasted 76 minutes and was largely forgettable.
Tuchel has stressed Saul shouldn’t be concerned by the situation he currently finds himself in. “He was very, very close to starting,” Tuchel said after Chelsea’s win against Southampton.
“In the end, I decided against him because I thought to put him in another high pressing match, against an opponent pressing so high in the centre of the pitch, would not be fair. It wasn’t time to say, ‘Okay now prove it and let’s see if your adaption has gone further?’
“I hesitated a little bit. He does not need to worry. Just work hard and adapt and the chances will come. We have only 11 to give a chance. I would like to see it in a positive way.”
Saul will be given minutes between now and the next international break. The difficult task is for the Spain international to prove he is up to speed with the pace of English football, despite not having minutes to adjust his game.
This season was one in which Havertz was expected to cement himself as a key figure in the Chelsea side and establish himself as one of European football’s standout players. That hasn’t happened…yet.
The German has featured in nine of Chelsea’s opening 11 games of the campaign but has a solitary goal and just one assist to his name. That isn’t enough for a player of Havertz’s quality and why he was an unused substitute against Southampton – alongside Hakim Ziyech, who we’ll get to – before the international break.
“We always try to do our best to get the players in the best shape but at some point, after a lot of chances, we have to admit that Kai and Hakim are not in their very best shape,” Tuchel said after the Blues’ recorded a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
“At a club like Chelsea, you need to be sharp every three days and fight for your place. This is what is going on.”
The international break was a good opportunity for Havertz to rediscover form and confidence. He featured in both of his country’s wins and scored in the latter against North Macedonia. That will have done him good and the challenge is to match that level of performance in a blue shirt over the next three weeks.
The man nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ during his time at Ajax hasn’t been able to produce his magic on a consistent basis since his move to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2020.
Injuries are part of the reason for that – Ziyech has had to recover from knee, hamstring and shoulder issues as a Chelsea player – but there is also a strong argument to suggest Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 shape will never get the best of the 28-year-old.
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In the middle of the pitch where space is at a premium, Ziyech is often crowded out and unable to utilise his full passing range. He is also not one of the more effective pressers, something which is demanded by Tuchel.
As highlighted above, Ziyech has lost his place in the Chelsea side due to his lack of form. But due to a disagreement with Morocco national team coach Vahid Halilhodžić, he has spent the last two weeks working at Cobham under Tuchel’s watch.
That will, hopefully, have done Ziyech good and perhaps he can finally produce the performances which convinced Chelsea to sign him from Ajax.
Source by Football London