In continuing to look at the Chelsea squad as the 2016-2017 Premier League season is about to begin, the last two areas to look at are goalkeeper and defenders. There is quite a contrast in terms of what to expect from both groups, as they are almost polar opposites.
At goalkeeper, the Blues are quite solid. Thibault Courtois remains one of the best goalkeepers in the world when he’s fit and focused, and he’s resisted the opportunity to leave London in search of Champions League football.
Last season, the Belgian keeper looked shaky at times, and it couldn’t have helped that his relationship with former goalkeeper coach Christophe Lollichon had deteriorated. However, Courtois looked much more assured in goal for Belgium at Euro 2016, and the few performances we’ve seen from him have been much closer to what was seen in the 2014-2015 title season.
Backing up Courtois will once again be Asmir Begovic, at least for now. The Bosnian has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge recently, with reports citing him looking for more first-team football opportunities.
With the season starting in just under a week, the likelihood of Begovic leaving is slim, and that’s good for Chelsea, especially given his performances during Courtois’ injuries and inconsistent second half of the year.
The bigger problem for the Blues is the back line, an area that has needed improvement for the last few years. John Terry signed a new contract to remain with the team for this season and will partner Gary Cahill to start the season.
While both are quality defenders, neither are the quickest of players and are susceptible to strikers with any kind of pace. The return of Kurt Zouma should help give the centre back position some depth, provided that he returns the same player that he was before his injury.
Outside of those three, the centre back group is less than convincing. Given the squad that traveled to Germany, it seems Michael Hector will be kept in the squad as the third/fourth-choice centre back. Hector is a physically imposing presence and can win the ball, but his decision making can be questionable and his passing ability needs a lot of work.
Outside of Hector, American Matt Miazga is the other option at centre back, but looks to be heading for a loan spell to gain some experience, meaning that another signing another centre back could be an option, especially with Miazga and Hector looking less than assured in that position.
At fullback, one side is solid, the other is questionable. Cesar Azpilicueta remains a solid defensive option at left back, but the Spaniard looked to run out of steam at the end of last season and mistakes began to creep into his game. However, he’s still a very good one-on-one defender and has developed a good understanding with Terry on the left side of defence after taking over for Ashley Cole.
Right back, however, is another story. Branislav Ivanovic has been a good right back for the club, but last season, teams ruthlessly exposed his dwindling pace and started to expose him one-on-one. One year later, he’s not getting any quicker and his eventual replacement should be recruited if not for this season, but for the future.
One possible person to challenge Ivanovic at right back and also to provide cover at left back is Ola Aina. The 19-year-old academy product has impressed this preseason with his performances. A converted winger, the defensive side of his play would need some work, but he seems to have improved in that area, and he plays very well in the transition phase.
Aina’s one-on-one play does need improvement, as well as tracking runners behind, but he’s shown to be a very talented prospect with room to grow.
However, Baba Rahman has departed on loan, meaning Chelsea have just three recognized fullbacks, which has been the case for the last couple of years. The absence of a fourth fullback could mean that there’s room in the squad to keep both Victor Moses and Juan Cuadrado as wingers, and the latter can play wing back if need be.
But, like centre back, it’s an area that Chelsea need to address because of the lack of depth, and as shown last year after a long-term injury to Zouma and a short spell on the sidelines for Cahill, a situation where John Obi Mikel is asked to play centre back should be avoided if possible.