David Luiz’s deadline-day transfer to Arsenal last summer came as a massive shock to Chelsea fans, and coupled with a transfer embargo, left us with inexperienced centre backs. This shock was heightened by the fact that our second most experienced centre back, Antonio Rudiger, was still unfit due to a nagging injury that had kept him out of action for a considerable period of time. With just 2 fit centre backs, Fikayo Tomori (who won Derby County’s POTY in the previous season under Frank Lampard) was asked to stay at the club instead of leaving on loan as intended.
Tomori was expected to feature only sporadically and mainly play for the development side (PL2). Kurt Zouma (fresh from a promising loan at Everton) and Andreas Christensen were the likely starting pair, at least for the first few games. This seemed a good combination on paper; Christensen’s passing range coupled with Zouma’s physical robust stature imparted a positive outlook for the defense. However, this partnership simply did not work, and there was an evident absence of mental connection between the two. All these factors prompted the manager to slowly introduce a promising, young centre back into the first team.
Fikayo Tomori made his debut coming on as a substitute for Christensen in the UEFA Super Cup loss to Liverpool. His first start shortly followed, getting on the team sheet beside Zouma in the 2-2 draw at home against Sheffield United. Although this game was not the best in terms of defence, it witnessed the birth of a fantastic partnership between the Frenchman and the young Englishman. The two would even go on to dominate Ajax on their own turf. Chelsea fans can never forget Tomori’s Cryuff turn at the Johan Cryuff Arena, sending Ziyech for a hotdog. He seemed to have exceeded everyone’s expectation – even Lampard himself, as he openly admitted that he prevented Tomori from leaving for squad depth, but he had since comfortably become the first choice centre back.
Just when Frank Lampard seemed to have finally found the answer to the centre-back conundrum, this duo’s fatal flaw was exposed – the inability to break down a low block. Lower opposition, when facing Chelsea, would simply sit back and defend for the full game and hit on the counter, which guaranteed one point for certain, and three if the counter attack works and there is a lapse in concentration. This issue once again urged the coaching staff to bring out their tinkering tools, but this time in the form of Rudiger, who was finally fit to play. Unfortunately, this brought about the end of consecutive starts for Tomori. Christensen and Rudiger’s purple patch in recent games has now seemingly frozen out Tomori, who has just 2 starts this calender year, and both in the FA Cup against second division opposition. But is this justified? Lets find out.
How does Fikayo Tomori compare to our other centre backs?
While Tomori doesn’t have any one defining characteristic – Christensen’s passing and calmness, Zouma’s physique, Rudiger’s leadership- his biggest asset is his consistency. He is reasonably quick, and possesses positional awareness. Also, we know he can hit the belters – we just cannot forget that screamer vs Wolves. But, this is all on the surface, let’s dig deeper. (For fair comparison, all stats are measured in per 90 terms)
Tomori completes the most tackles per game, with two. For comparison, AC completes 1.8, Rudiger 1.4 and Zouma one. This means that Tomori attempts and completes more tackles than his compatriots. He also concedes the least fouls with 0.5, AC gives 0.8, Rudiger 1 and Zouma 1.2, which also indicates that he is composed and not clumsy. He does falter in clearances made : AC has 3.1, Rudiger 3.3 and Zouma 4.2 while Tomori has just 2.5 clearances per game. This indicates that he can pass his way out of a sticky situation instead of just clearing the ball. Although he has made a few errors, none of them have led to goals. All four centre backs rank evenly in terms of blocks made and dribbled past.
Tomori leads the way in key passes per game with 0.3, AC with 0.2 and Rudiger and Zouma both at 0.1. He also completes the most passes per game among our options with 77.4, AC with 57.9, Rudiger with 72.3 and Zouma close behind with 70.4. But, an interesting fact is that AC leads the way in passing accuracy, completing 89.9% of his passes. Tomori ranks second with 87.3, Zouma with 86.9 and Rudiger last with 85.1. AC and Tomori complete 0.1 through balls per game, and attempt just 2.5 and 2.6 long balls per game, indicating their willingness to play out from the back. Meanwhile Rudiger and Zouma attempt 5.5 and 4.4 respectively.
Rudiger is most likely featuring in the squad due to experience and leadership rather than other factors; on paper Tomori is definitely better playing out from the back. He is also calm and composed unlike Rudiger who can be clumsy at times. For me, the best centre back duo is Christensen-Tomori, and the stats back this. They have started together just once this season in the league, and kept a clean-sheet against Brighton. However, considering the intangibles, we must trust that Frank Lampard and the coaching staff are well aware of their decisions, and we must get behind them. With a tough run of fixtures coming ahead of this winter break, hopefully Tomori gets more game time to prove his worth in the team.