The never-ending question mark that has been put on Chelsea’s defence, are they reliable? Ever since John Terry left, Chelsea have never replaced been able to replace his stellar defensive abilities, nor his leadership qualities. A man who gave his heart every time he put on the Chelsea shirt, someone who put his body on the line to prevent us conceding goals. To this day, we still hold the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season, an impressive feat of just 15 goals. which was orchestrated by John Terry and his partner in crime Ricardo Carvalho, arguably, one of the best CB parings of all time. So, where did it all go wrong?
With the shift in football towards a possession-based style, the types of defenders have also changed. Nowadays, everyone uses a high press, a high defensive line, meaning defenders must be comfortable with the ball, quick, and be able to play Hollywood passes. That’s clearly asking a lot of Chelsea’s current crop of defenders.
The problem with ball playing CBs however, can be the fact that sometimes they are bad at the one job they should be good at as a defender, which is defending. This was forever prevalent with David Luiz. He was our best ball playing CB, who could produce some amazing balls over the top, arguably the best in the league at that aspect, but defensively he was poor. He made too many mistakes, was caught out of position on many occasions and would make you want to rip your hair out at times. After an altercation with Frank Lampard he was shipped off to Arsenal in the dying moments of the transfer window. This left Chelsea with Zouma, Christensen, Tomori and Rudiger. All of whom have their strengths and weaknesses.
Kurt Zouma, who had a purple patch in 2015, suffered a bad knee injury, ending his season prematurely. Last season he went to Everton, where he rediscovered some of his form, which resulted in him getting back into the Chelsea first team. In the first 4 games of this season, his ball playing skills have been questioned with misplaced passes, clumsiness and panicking when being pressed all causes for concern. While he may not be able to produce magic with the ball, his pace and strength comes in handy when recovering, especially against teams like Burnley who like to play more direct. I think Lampard is misusing Zouma, who is currently playing as the LCB.
Personally, I would play him as the right center back, similar to the way Sarri used Rudiger last season. The RCB stayed back while the LCB, Luiz, would go forward and play with the ball. Here is where I think Zouma would excel, he would be on his stronger side, and be able to use his right foot more effectively as well as not having the pressure to attack would give him more confidence. His pace would also be effective when we are countered.
Antonio Rudiger was a regular with Sarri, playing alongside David Luiz. He is currently recovering from a knee injury that he suffered during the end of last season. Rudiger recently played 90 minutes for the PL2 side and should be back in the first team by the end of the international break. Personally, I think he is currently the clubs best CB, experienced, good with both feet, can play anywhere in defence, and is vocal, something the 3 others aren’t. This will come in handy when holding a high line. While he may not be the best, with moments of brilliance and then some terrible mistakes, he is without doubt our best defender, and someone who should be the first name on the team sheet.
Andreas Christensen is someone who has always had the potential to be world class, but his lack of leadership, weak mentality and lack of strength constantly let him down. On the ball he’s one of our best, usually good under pressure, but he needs an experienced player alongside him telling him what to do, that’s when he is at his best. This has been the main problem with the Christensen and Zouma partnership, neither are very vocal, which resulted in our defensive line breaking, allowing the opposition to counter and beat the offside.
Fikayo Tomori was promoted to the first team after a good season out on loan at Derby, winning their POTY award. His best attribute is his pace as even if he was caught off guard, he’s always been able to recover. However, he has little Premier League experience, which can cause problems for players used to the Championship. We’ve only seen him play one game in the Premier League where he partnered alongside Zouma against Sheffield United, where we drew 2-2, conceding 2 goals in the second half after leading 2-0. He showed flashes of brilliance in the game, but his lack of experience was seen in the Blade’s second goal where he was caught ball watching, and being young, it’s expected. He also had the same problem as Christensen and Zouma, lack of communication between our defenders which results in the opposition breaking us down.
With Chelsea serving their transfer ban, and club profits at a record high, the club should have a sizeable transfer budget for Frank Lampard to work with in 2020. A new defender is a must, especially someone who can have a similar impact Van Djik has had on the Liverpool team.
We need someone who will not only solidify our defence, but also bring leadership back into the defence, someone to help organise at the back. Potentially that player could be Koulibaly, one of the best defenders in the world, who not only has good ball playing skills, his defensive attributes are second to none. However, with Aurelio De Laurentiis negotiating, not even Marina can break him down, his value would be upwards of £100 million.
Another alternative would be Varane, a world class CB who is only just entering the prime of his career, and would be an amazing coup for Chelsea, however prizing him away from Real Madrid may be a tough task. Another more viable option would be Umtiti, someone who is one of the best in his position and recently been demoted to the bench with Clement Lenglet taking his position. My choice however would be Romagnoli, young, talented, good with his feet, perfect for the LCB position and more importantly a leader as he is currently captaining the Milan side.
In conclusion going forward into the season, having Rudiger back will be like a new signing, he should strengthen our defence further. Zouma and Rudiger should definitely be our starting pairing, with Zouma the right centre back. Christensen as back up, who will also benefit with the arrival of Rudiger.
It has to be said, that CB is one of the most competitive places in Chelsea’s squad and Frank Lampard will continue to use all his options throughout the season.