A careful balancing act is required from Thomas Tuchel on Wednesday evening when Chelsea take on Malmo at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League.
The Blues head coach will know another slip-up will be hugely damaging to his side’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition. Yet rotation is also required to ensure the first-team squad is fresh for further challenges in the Premier League.
After their opening two Champions League matches, Chelsea sit second in Group H. The reigning European champions trail Juventus, who secured a narrow 1-0 victory over Tuchel’s side in Turin on matchday two, by three points.
Malmo, meanwhile, are the group’s also-rans, which was somewhat expected. The Swedish side have suffered 3-0 and 4-0 defeats thus far and appear to have little chance of claiming victory on their visit to west London.
But shocks happen: Real Madrid’s defeat on home soil to Sheriff Tiraspol last month is very much proof of that. So Tuchel will have to be wary, complacency can’t become a factor.
In that respect, perhaps it would be wise for Tuchel to turn to players with points to prove. And there are several within his squad who will be desperate to impress if given the opportunity to replace tired legs, of which there were many after the weekend win over Brentford.
So here are four members of Tuchel’s first-team group that we believe should be given an opportunity when Malmo visit on Wednesday.
Rewind a month and the Spaniard was Tuchel’s first-choice left wing-back. But the resurgence of Ben Chilwell has resulted in Alonso being an unused substitute in Chelsea’s last two Premier League matches.
The 30-year-old will be hopeful of starting against Malmo, however. Not only is he fresh but he won’t be lacking match fitness having featured for Spain in the Nations League semi-final and final during the international break.
Alonso has never lacked confidence during his time at Chelsea. So he will believe he can reclaim a starting role in Tuchel’s side in the weeks ahead. In order to do that, a strong outing against Malmo will be required.
Signed on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid on transfer deadline day, Saul has not found life as a Chelsea player easy.
Handed his debut against Aston Villa in the Premier League in September, the Spaniard was replaced after a 45-minute display riddled with errors. His next outing in the Carabao Cup – also against Villa – went a little better but Saul still didn’t see out the 90.
That appearance remains the 26-year-old’s last. It came almost a month ago. And while Tuchel has come close to handing Saul another start, he has resisted the urge. That should change against Malmo.
What the midfielder has struggled with in his opening two games as a Chelsea player is the frenetic pace of the English game. In the Champions League, that is removed. Players have a little more time to pick a pass, are not as rushed on the ball.
Malmo’s visit feels like the ideal moment to drop Saul back into the starting XI. It’s a game in which he can, hopefully, regain some confidence, become more familiar with his teammates, and hopefully kickstart his Chelsea career.
Prior to the international break, Hudson-Odoi was finally given a start in his favoured role on the left of the Chelsea attack. And while it would be wrong to say he grabbed his opportunity with both hands, he certainly showcased why he deserves a start in the position against Malmo.
Hudson-Odoi produced several neat touches and there was one surging run that should’ve resulted in a goal – only a last-ditch challenge from Tino Livramento denied the England international from finishing from close range.
The winger did claim a first-half assist after his cross was headed home by Timo Werner. But VAR managed to find a reason to disallow the goal.
As discussed in greater detail here, Hudson-Odoi has been stuck in a holding pattern at Chelsea for two years. Something has to change. And while a start against Malmo will not transform his Blues career, it may help it get moving once again.
Having scored Chelsea’s winner in the Champions League final, many expected the 22-year-old to establish himself as a key figure in the Blues side this season. That hasn’t happened…yet.
Havertz has featured in ten of Chelsea’s opening 12 games this term but has just a single goal to his name. He has also only registered just one assist.
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It’s this form that prompted Tuchel to drop Havertz from his side against Southampton before the international break and why the German didn’t start against Brentford.
“We want absolutely more from Kai, what he can deliver because he is full of talent,” the German said. “Nobody is angry at him but once you play for Chelsea, we want to have the best out of you.
“I don’t know why, maybe it is because of our success, it’s very important and necessary that we brush it off our shoulders and focus on the right here and now.”
With Romelu Lukaku, in the eyes of Tuchel, showing signs of fatigue against Brentford on Saturday, the contest against Malmo feels like the perfect opportunity for the Belgian to be rested. And in the Belgian’s place should step Havertz.
He produced his best football last term playing as a false nine and that is a role he can reprise in the absence of Lukaku. It may also be exactly what is needed to unlock the Chelsea attack, which has struggled to fashion clear-cut chances this term.
Source by Football London