For a big English club like Chelsea, there is a possibility of 67 matches in the season. It is impossible for a player to play in every single one of these matches, save a goalkeeper, and even then there is the risk of injury. Therefore the starting XI must be rotated regularly to avoid burnout. However, Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea has taken a very fixed view to its starting line-up, and has been playing more or less the same players twice a week. In this article, I will be assessing Chelsea’s options should their first choice player be injured, tired, or simply considered not quite up to the job.
Petr Cech has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent starters throughout his career, and has been almost ever present in the starting XI this season. Nevertheless, he might decide that he needs a break, or maybe he could wish to give other keepers a chance. If so, the options are fairly bleak. Seasoned benchwarmers Ross Turnbull and Hilario are nowhere near the standard of Cech, and generally their appearances have been closely followed by calamitous errors between the sticks. Even so, the much more promising Thibaut Courtois is currently on loan at Athletico Madrid, who could be recalled in the event of a catastrophe. But it is likely that he considers Athletico his home now, and I imagine he will be soon pushing for a move
As a first choice, Chelsea have arguably the best left back in the world, Ashley Cole. That said, he is in his thirties now, and will only be there for a couple more seasons. Ryan Bertrand looks a strong replacement, and in my opinion should be given a regular start against weaker teams. In a few years, once Cole has gone, I am confident that Bertrand is capable of stepping smartly up to the plate.
Currently, John Terry and David Luiz seem to be di Matteo’s preferred centre back pairing. But, at 31, Terry, like Cole, will not be here in a few years, so contingencies must be planned. Gary Cahill looks a ready-made replacement. He is strong, disciplined and has admirable leadership qualities for a man only 26 years of age. Branislav Ivanovic, a natural right back, has been pushing for a move into the centre for a while now, and deputised for the injured Luiz against Swansea. While I don’t think letting him into the centre is the best idea long term, it should be possible for a quick fix in the case of emergency.
The aforementioned Branislav Ivanovic has put in consistently solid performances on the right all season, and that does not look to be changing soon. Furthermore, the new signing Cesar Azpilicueta has done a very good job when called upon, and would warrant more game time if it were not for the world-class, in-form Serb who currently keeps him out of the team. Paulo Ferreira has been pushed down the pecking order by the Spaniard, and doesn’t look like he will get much time on the pitch this season.
As Frank Lampard seems to have dropped out of the team a little bit, John Obi Mikel and Ramires have cemented their places. Lampard, while not bad in the position, has succumbed to the passage of time, and as cover, will only be good for this season. This is not only due to his age, but also the rumours of an MLS move in January. Oriol Romeu, in his few appearances in the position, has looked uncertain both times, but should become a fine player, with the right guidance. His considerable talent will more than suffice should Mikel become fatigued. As for Ramires, well, he never gets fatigued. So no problem there.
I group these three players together primarily because they are all interchangeable positions, both on the pitch and on paper. Oscar, Mata and Hazard look to be the first choices, yet thanks to the power of Abramovich’s pocket, we have multitudes of worthy stand-ins. Victor Moses has played admirably out on the wing several times this season, impressing with each appearance. Marko Marin, the ‘German Messi’ has yet to feature prominently in the team, with only a few minutes to his name, but his talents will undoubtedly be showcased soon. Lucas Piazon, only 19, appeared in the Capital One Cup, but failed to really impress. However, he is still in his teens, so not so much can be expected of him. Kevin De Bruyne, the young Belgian import from Genk, has been sent on loan to a Belgian side for development, and should be a good prospect when he returns, and Thorgan Hazard, purportedly better than his brother, although needing time to grow as a player, can be expected to light up the Bridge when he returns. Florent Malouda, at 32, is blatantly looking for a move away from Chelsea, and who can blame him? He hasn’t played for a very long time, and that does not seem to be changing soon.
Finally, the big one. This is the position in which Chelsea have come under the most scrutiny for not being deep enough, and there is a good reason for it. Fernando Torres has been unreliable for the past 2 years, and Daniel Sturridge looked very uncertain against United. Both look hazy options for the future, especially as Torres will only be good for 3 or 4 more years. Romelu Lukaku, currently on loan at West Brom, has put in some good performances, but in my opinion, Chelsea need to buy a world-class striker, and soon. Otherwise the Blues will be in the situation whereby they would have the world’s best creative players feeding the ball through, but next to no goals going into the net.
A quick flick through the official Chelsea website’s on loan players page reveals a crowd of promising young players, some playing in very advanced leagues, as good options for the future. However, at present, looking at Chelsea’s squad, it seems to me that the only place where Chelsea need more options is up front, which looks set to be addressed in the January transfer window.
By Nikhil Krishna