Being a top level team in Europe is difficult especially if you have aims to win the league in your respective league. Various teams have managed to stay at top of the hill for extended periods of time such as Juventus, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Liverpool before the Ferguson era. Currently, Liverpool has raised their game over the last years to become one of the best, if not the best, team in Europe. Manchester City has also been winning over the last five years, increasing their trophy cabinet under Pep Guardiola. What separates your league giants from your mid-table teams is obviously your starting caliber talent, but what sometimes goes unnoticed and what can ultimately win you trophies is the quality of your bench. Both Liverpool and City have strong depth in their squad that allows them to rotate with ease without much repercussion. That has been an issue for Chelsea especially this season, sometimes lacking that magic off the bench while others have prospered in their mid-game substitutions.
Despite the lack of results, Chelsea have a pretty decent squad depth, but injuries have riddled them to a point of being short handed. With their aim of transitioning to a next phase challenged, Chelsea had to accept their current roster due to a transfer ban impeding them from filling the gap Hazard left during the past summer. Chelsea have had a bumpy road in this campaign, and often have looked short of quality in dire situations. During our strong years in the mid 2000s and early 2010 decade, Chelsea were almost spoiled as quality was never short handed. That has changed recently and it’s important to get back to having a strong bench in order to be successful.
Our squad depth in the past
In last year’s campaign, Chelsea managed to to win the Europa League and secure Champions League football by finishing 3rd in the table. This was thanks to slips other teams committed, and the fact that Chelsea were able to capitalize on their mistakes. The bench from that season usually consisted of Caballero, Christensen, Alonso, Barkley, Pedro and Olivier Giroud. Before Hudson-Odoi started to play more games under Maurizio Sarri, he was mostly stuck on the bench though able to provide the Blues an extra spark of energy on the pitch. Chelsea also had a fit Ruben Loftus-Cheek during this period, and the young Englishmen managed to thrive at any opportunity given. Maurizio Sarri realized his young star and Loftus overtook Kovačić as the LCM in their 4-3-3 formation. This either forced Kovačić or Barkley to the bench and sometimes even both. This allowed to have the likes of Kovačić on the bench and also give Chelsea some cover if Jorginho or Kanté were injured. Before Ruben broke through the lineup, a recurring Barkley for Kovačić substitution started to become predictable, and almost inevitable to a point where it become a laughing matter. Sarri’s tactics became stagnant and repetitive, struggling to make mid-game adjustments and failing in the process. The Blues added veteran striker Gonzalo Higuaín to their ranks in the 2019 January transfer window to strengthen their striker position. Before January though, Sarri also had the likes of Cesc Fabregas to rotate the regista role after enlisting Jorginho (who accompanied Sarri to Chelsea from Napoli in the 2018 summer window) to that position. Throughout the latter part of the 2018/19 season, the Blues were able to regain ground in their race for top four and have a steady bench to look upon.
During our title winning season in the 2016/17 campaign, Chelsea had a reasonable bench that consisted of Asmir Begović, Kurt Zouma, Cesc Fàbregas, Terry, Oscar, Willian/Pedro, and Michy Batshuayi. The year after that, things started to change for Chelsea and less star power was on the substitution list. Alvaro Morata, Danny Drinkwater, Timoué Bakayoko and Davide Zappacosta were added to the squad during that summer, and it was safe to say their impact did not bear much fruit for the Blues. Chelsea took a massive step back from their previous year and finished 5th in the league, but were able to win the FA Cup against Manchester United. Despite winning the FA Cup, the cracks started to appear for Chelsea and the bench provided little to no help. In this season, Willian was used the most as a substitute coming off the bench 16 times, followed by Pedro with 14 appearances as a substitute. Antonio Conte’s side only produced a substandard 60 big chances and 1.6 goals per match. Both stats were 6th in the table demonstrating the lack of quality in the final third.
Chelsea at this point did not have the depth they once had during their prestigious years. The Blues once had an elite level squad that included the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Jose Bosingwa, Florent Malouda, Salomon Kalou, Deco, Fernando Torres and Michael Essien. This star-filled bench helped Chelsea become one of the strongest teams in Europe during the late 2000s, winning countless trophies and eventually winning the Champions League in 2012. Chelsea was able to play several bench players in the 2012 UEFA CL final such as the Ryan Bertrand, David Luiz, and John Obi Mikel. Making sure you have a reliable bench to look upon is key for any top contender team, and Chelsea had this for various years. This season, Chelsea have been up-and-down trying to change the culture of the team. Lampard still had his Willian’s and Pedro’s to call upon, but missed that spark off the bench that was normally a game changer. Antonio Conte possessed that in Cesc Fabregas and used him in tight game situations, especially when teams were sitting back in low blocks. Lampard has missed that this year since the departure of Eden Hazard. He’s had to rely on the youth and aging veterans who often have not produced any impact in urgent circumstances.
The current Chelsea squad depth
While the summer transfer still hasn’t arrived, that hasn’t stopped Chelsea from conducting any transfer business. Hakim Ziyech was signed from Ajax for about 40 million euros. This acquisition will no doubt help Chelsea in the creativity department, but they should also look for more attacking options in the wide areas and striker department. Pedro, Willian and Michy Batshuayi will more than likely both leave, opening the gap for more incoming transfers. Michy has been surprisingly the most used substitute this season with 19 appearances off the bench in all competitions. The second most used sub has been the young English winger, Callum Hudson-Odoi with 10 appearances off the bench. Chelsea need to improve their starting caliber especially on the defensive end to make sure they’re not left behind in the race for improvement. This past January window gave opportunity to several top-four rivals to improve their squads and increase their chance for European football. Chelsea’s inactivity in the window left Lampard frustrated and with good reason. They were now the hunted as several teams started to pick up form and chase Chelsea’s fourth place spot. Their top four rivals, Tottenham, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers were all able to to improve their form and decrease the point gap between them and Chelsea. As others started to pick up momentum, Chelsea’s injuries were becoming more and more frequent, leaving Lampard limited in his options. Further Chelsea youngsters were added to the bench such as Gilmour, Armando Borja and Tino Anjorin due to the amount of injured Chelsea players.
This past January also marked an unusual statistic in the 3-0 victory over Burney; Chelsea played an entire 90 minutes without making a substitution, something they haven’t done in over seven years. The last time this occurred was in the 2013 Europa League final against Benfica, and last time it happened in the league came against Bolton Wanderers in 2009. The current suspension of football due to the pandemic has left Chelsea a small hope of being more up to strength, as quarantine has allowed players who were out with injury to fully recover. If Premier League football does manage to complete the season, then Chelsea could have a much stronger bench to rely on in their quest for a top four finish.
What should the bench look like next year?
Looking towards the future, Chelsea should reinforce tremendously this summer and offload deadweight holding the team back. This includes aging veterans and talent that have run out of opportunities on the pitch. The bench should be worthy enough to be useful, and getting the right personnel is essential. Making sure having a solidified offensive weapon on the bench is crucial, especially when the game cries for a spark of magic. Before the league was haltered, Loftus-Cheek was close to a return and could help Lampard in the offensive phase. The return of Ethan Ampadu will more than likely happen after a disappointing loan spell at RB Leipzig, and could add more depth in the defensive department for the Blues. His versatility will also be useful as he can play both centre-back and in a deep defensive midfield position. This addition should stop Chelsea from pursuing the likes of Declan Rice or Boubakary Soumaré who have been rumored to a move to Stamford Bridge. Adding more offensive firepower should be the aim for Chelsea this summer to ensure more goals are produced on the pitch, something they have been lacking all season. The Blues must also address their defensive woes, and might look to get a new keeper to give Kepa some competition. Purchasing a veteran would be the wise decision, and having Kepa or the veteran on the bench incase one falters in form.
A strong Chelsea lineup should include a quality-filled starting eleven, and a well built substitution list. Rotation is also key, so securing several starting-caliber players in the squad should be the level Chelsea should aim for. If the Blues aim for the likes of Sancho or Jérémie Boga, then either Pulisic or Hudson-Odoi could be deployed on the bench, adding young and dynamic energy to our squad. One of the current centre-backs for Chelsea could also seek an exit for more playing time, such as Kurt Zouma or Antonio Rüdiger (who has been plagued with injuries, while the former with poor performances). Left-back Emerson Palmieri could also be set for a departure with rumors of him returning to Italy, and after falling out of favor with Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. With an expected left-back acquisition, Chelsea youngster Ian Maatsen could be one of the options as back up for next year’s campaign. It’ll be ideal to see the sales of Emerson and Marcos Alonso, but realistically we won’t see both exit. One of the few places Chelsea are strong in is their midfield. Lampard has various options to choose from such Jorginho, N’golo Kanté, Kovačić, Mount, Loftus-Cheek and the most recent revelation, Billy Gilmour. Once all players are healthy, Lampard could be forced to bench one of his important midfielders. Some may also leave as Jorginho and Kanté are linked to various European clubs. Despite this, Chelsea could likewise end up keeping all midfield options, and make sure the depth of our squad is strong and packed.
If Premier League does return in the near future, then Chelsea will have to finish the season strong to convince the board to fully back Lampard in his aims for squad improvement. The bench for Chelsea is looking promising, as several top, key names are rumored such as Driens Mertens, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and goalkeeper André Onana. The returning Ampadu and possible return of Boga, could help Chelsea close the gap between the giants of City and Liverpool. Rotating with ease should be the Chelsea norm, and we all hope next year that will be the case.
Sources: statisitics from transfrmarkt.com, onefootball app, fotmob football app, Premier League app, ChelseFC Official Website, espn.com.
Edited by @dan