Time to throw Chilwell into the fire?
The summer was not an easy one for Ben Chilwell. He was one of only three outfield players not to play a single minute of action for England at the European Championship. And on his return to Chelsea for pre-season, he found himself firmly behind Marcos Alonso.
Yet on Tuesday against Zenit, for the first time in more than three months, he made a competitive appearance. The smile on his face after the game felt important, especially as a day earlier Tuchel admitted Chilwell had struggled with the situation he was in.
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“It has absolutely been difficult for him and I think it is pretty normal,” the Chelsea head coach said. “When he arrived for pre-season, I felt him mentally tired, worrying about the situation. But at the same time, he had to accept.
“He was very unlucky. Marcos was here the whole pre-season and did every single training session; he took this opportunity with such huge quality and attitude.
“So Marcos was crucial for us from the first day of training and then he delivered in Chilly’s position. These are two specialists for the same position, so this is a tough competition for both of them.
“We had some talks with Chilly about the situation. He knows that I would have done the same thing the other way round – to trust him if he was here and showed this kind of personality and attitude like Marcos did. They push each other and there are no further worries for Chilly.”
The England international played seven minutes against Zenit. It was hardly the most rigourous of outings even with a post-match warm down on the Stamford Bridge. He may not be ready to step in against Tottenham, but it would be a huge confidence boost if he did.
That is the call Tuchel has to make as Alonso struggled on Tuesday yet has been hugely impressive this term. And let’s not forget, the Spaniard does always tend to deliver against Spurs.
Yes or no, for N’Golo?
There is no like-for-like replacement for N’Golo Kante in the Chelsea squad. How can there be? The 30-year-old is the very best in world football at what he does.
However, the Blues can get by without the France international, they’ve proved that already this term. Kante has played only 63 minutes of Premier League action thus far due to a persistent ankle injury yet Chelsea have claimed three wins in four matches.
Kante was back in training at the start of this week. Had the Zenit match been of greater importance, he could’ve been risked.
Instead, the decision was taken for him to sit out Tuesday’s game in order to be ready to take on Spurs on Sunday.
Who Kante would replace in the side is not simple, however. Jorginho has proved his importance to Chelsea time and time again this year while Mateo Kovacic has started the campaign in stellar form, as highlighted by his goal-and-assist display against Aston Villa on Saturday.
It feels bold to state Chelsea don’t need Kante in their starting XI for a high-profile fixture. He has made these games his own throughout 2021, reached a level few can match. Yet thanks to the form of others, perhaps Tuchel can ease him back into the fold.
Who feeds Chelsea’s predator?
Whisper it quietly but Chelsea haven’t been overly good in the previous two matches. And yet they have come away with 3-0 and 1-0 victories. The reason why: Romelu Lukaku.
The ruthlessness of the Belgian enables the Blues to be below-par and still win games. That is something that wasn’t possible last term. In his opening four games of his second spell at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku has four goals from just six shots on target.
It’s impressive yet the feeling is the second stat should be higher. For that, Lukaku needs Chelsea’s other attacking players to step up.
There have been flashes of an understanding between the 28-year-old and Mason Mount, but the academy graduate had one of his poorer games against Zenit.
The quality of Kai Havertz, meanwhile, is undeniable but he can drift through games. The same can be said for Hakim ZIyech, who has started the last two yet hasn’t produced a telling moment.
Timo Werner, meanwhile, appears very much fifth-choice in the pecking order and Christian Pulisic is out injured.
Tuchel faces a challenge to find the right combination in the weeks ahead. You suspect Mount will start against Spurs given his quality on the ball and application on it. Who takes up the other attacking spot is the other big decision Tuchel has to make.