Chelsea this season are in a great place. After a rough start, the team have been able to quickly build up a series of great performances, winning eight of their last nine. So naturally, fans have been eager to wonder if this may eventually turn out to be the squad to return European dominance to London fresh off a Europa League triumph in May. Frankly, myself and other fans have a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves, and some things need to be established to eliminate a grey area of understanding.
Firstly, something I frequently ponder myself is the difference between wanting young players to succeed and become world class or actually having the potential to become world class. For me, all of the midfielders are safe from this discussion, as the problem is more of who will play versus who is good and who is not. However the club won’t truly rise as long as Ross Barkley is anywhere near a rotation and he needs to be sold immediately. He brings a quality that is not required in this midfield and rarely acts upon it anyway. Barkley has had three years to make it at Chelsea and has only made marginal preseason impressions against B Teams and European farmers, whilst his only lasting memory I can pull from the depths of my mind was a 96′ minute equalizer against Mourinho’s United (which to be fair was actually massive in last season’s turn of events).
Eventually Lampard will have the greatest problem in football; deciding which three (or four) midfielders will play. Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic are world class and virtually locks every time they are fit. This leaves out English duo Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Scottish wonderkid Billy Gilmour, who despite being the youngest player around the first team, has worked himself into the conversation as well. With that being said, Chelsea have the toughest part of being a dominant club again sorted.
Unfortunately, Chelsea have relied a lot on said midfield and their attack this season. The defending has been notably poor but it hasn’t all been bad. Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have shown their worth after having a poor start and being reserves, respectively. Emerson has been injured and Alonso has been Alonso, despite having some real good runs of form. Azpilicueta is steady but really unspectacular on both ends of the pitch. Of these five though, only one has shown signs of replacing a member of Chelsea’s strongest back line.
Without a doubt, Tomori can easily be the next John Terry for this club, but football is a team sport and Terry’s partner in crime Ricardo Carvalho was equally important to him as his own skill. Currently, I don’t think Chelsea have yet found replacements for Carvalho, Ashley Cole, William Gallas, Paulo Ferreira or Branislav Ivanovic. Azpilicueta seems to be having an Ivanovic-like decline but is still good enough for the Premier League it seems. For me, Emerson is out of his depth as a regular starter for this club, especially with his injury issues, and the board should really sell Alonso to a club in Spain and invest in a stronger left back.
Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Zouma have all had their ups and downs, but none strike me as a long term compliment to the rising Tomori. Their ceilings are a strong third centre back but nothing more, and not enough to become what Chelsea need. Christensen and Zouma were each that player at one point, but Zouma got injured many moons ago and now is no sure thing on the ball and Christensen lacks physicality and the confidence he had during Antonio Conte’s first campaign. Tomori has the capabilities of both of these players, and needs a strong counterpart to strike fear in the hearts of the opponents. Reece James has shown he has all the capabilities to nail down a place in the squad, but the tenure of Azpilicueta is holding him back at the moment. He’s one of the brightest talents in Europe and he’ll make it at some point.
Up next, Chelsea’s attack has been a little Jekyll and Hyde this season but typically very strong. The consistency isn’t always there but you’ve got Willian up there and several young guys, so it’s expected. Tammy Abraham has blossomed into not only one of the best strikers in the Premier League on form, but also one of the best striker talents in Europe. I have no complaints for him, but securing another top striker talent such as Erling Braut Håland to drive competition, form a rotation, or even a two-striker partnership would be optimal going forward for longevity and tactical flexibility. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic are two budding stars on the outside who should continue to garner playing time as the season wears on, but another signing should be on deck. The club should elect to keep one of Willian or Pedro, but not both. The likely choice is Pedro who would imaginably be content to finish his career in London off the bench, as he makes less demands for playing time and is always up for a goal when called upon. The club will need a ready replacement for Willian from the market, unless Frank Lampard chooses to utilize Mason Mount in that spot and allow someone else to take some time in the midfield.
Lastly but certainly not least, Kepa, our keeper, has been a more than adequate replacement for not only Thibaut Courtois but Petr Cech as well. However, Willy Caballero has truthfully not been great and should be let go. He’s no Carlo Cudicini and should be let go while Chelsea identify a more capable warden between the sticks to play understudy to Kepa. While not everything is perfect right now, the pieces will eventually fall into Frank Lampard’s lap for him to put in place. His main concern is to remain in a top four spot alongside Liverpool and Manchester City. UTC