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Jem Whitehead

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The Left Wing-Backs Chelsea Should Target in January

With Antonio Conte continuing to stick with his tried and trusted 3-4-3 formation, Marcos Alonso has been a staple in the Chelsea side since he signed from Fiorentina last summer. However, with the return of Champions League football to Stamford Bridge this year, as well as the hope of long domestic cup runs, Alonso will be hard pushed to be able to play every game at his best, and with youngster Kennedy the current backup, Conte must look to prioritise signing a dependable deputy for Alonso when the transfer window rolls around in January.

Chelsea’s International Break: A Look at the Blues Abroad

As we enter yet another laborious international break, with England set to face off against Germany and Brazil, several members of Antonio Conte’s squad have jetted off to various parts of the globe to continue the long road to Russia 2018.

Whilst some squad omissions may seem surprising (see the Spain squad without Cesar Azpilicueta), Blues fans will be hoping that those who have ventured abroad come back injury-free and ready for the next set of fixtures. Following the intermission, Chelsea will face a potential banana skin against a West Brom side without a win in their last ten Premier League games – and that’s got to end eventually, right? But which of Conte’s team are where, and will they be able to pick up morale-boosting wins on their vacations?

The Belgian Brigade

Chelsea’s largest cohort of players currently abroad lies with the Red Devils (not that one from up in Manchester). Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Michy Batshuayi are all included for Belgium, who qualified top of Group H undefeated. They face Mexico and Japan in two warm-up games, coming up against the likes of Javier Hernandez and Shinji Okazaki, who should keep Courtois’ hands nice and warm.

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The biggest concern from these games would be Belgian captain Hazard picking up a knock. Having only recently got back to full match fitness for the Blues, an injury to the 26-year-old would seriously hinder Chelsea’s lingering title hopes. Luckily, both of these games take place in Belgium, meaning minimal travel disruption and air miles for the Belgians of the squad. With national manager Roberto Martinez expected to rotate and give each player a chance, Michy Batshuayi can expect some minutes to help boost confidence ahead of continuing to push Conte for a place in the Chelsea starting XI.

A Clash of Defenders

Two of the contenders for a position in Chelsea’s backline go head to head on Friday, November 10, as Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger clash when England host Germany at Wembley. Cahill looks set to start in the backline for the Three Lions, but if this is in his now-accustomed-to back-three role, or whether Gareth Southgate employs a more traditional back four, remains to be seen. Rudiger is by no means a guaranteed starter in a competitive back line for Germany, but is expected to get the nod in the heart of the coach Joachim Low’s defence.

Both Cahill and Rudiger have endured indifferent starts to the 17-18 season, with Conte unable to replicate the defensive solidity which drove Chelsea to the title last year. However, this fixture allows both to throw down the mantle ahead of their return to Premier League action.

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Following on from the always-feisty clash against Germany, Cahill comes up against a well-known player with a delightful afro. Brazil are in town for an all-out glamour friendly, with Willian (who will captain Brazil in their prior friendly away to Japan) in town with the aim to lay down a marker ahead of the Russian showpiece. However, fellow Brazilian David Luiz will have to watch from the sidelines after not being included in Tite’s squad as the result of an underwhelming opening period for the Blues in both the Premier League and Champions League.

Best of the Rest

After a hugely impressive performance against Man United, Andreas Christensen is the first of two Chelsea players in competitive action during the break. Denmark face the Republic of Ireland in a double-header, with the victor earning a spot in Russia. Christensen is slowly becoming a first-team regular. With a string of solid performances thus far this season, he is already being likened to the ‘next John Terry’. Christensen is expected to play the full 180 minutes across both legs, and will be key in stopping an Ireland team looking to reach only their fourth World Cup, and their first since 2002.

Elsewhere, Italy and Davide Zappacosta go up against a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less Sweden following an impressive qualifying campaign, only missing out to group winners, Spain. Whilst Zappacosta is yet to stamp his mark on Chelsea or the Italian national team, the spirited wing-back is impressing with each passing performance. He is expected to maintain his place in the Chelsea starting XI following the international break, with Victor Moses not expected to be match fit just yet.

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Finally, Alvaro Morata joins the Spain squad who, surprisingly, have left out Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta and Fabregas can count themselves exceedingly unlucky, as the pair are have been in great form for the Blues, as showcased during the recent 1-0 win over Man United. Morata nicked the winner with an incredible header in the showdown with José Mourinho’s men, and will be looking to keep his goalscoring form going up against Costa Rica and Russia.

The international break is usually met with a chorus of sighs and jeers from Premier League fans, as the frantic action tends to be replaced with dull affairs devoid of any intrigue. However, it does give those on duty a chance to enhance their form, or rediscover their best. But, as usual, the main concern is for players to return without injury, ready to kick on to the next round of fixtures.

Header image: “Eden Hazard / Эден Азар” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Aleksandr Osipov

Willian: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

After Chelsea’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Man City and, most recently, lowly Crystal Palace, Chelsea fans have begun to ask questions about who, or what, is to blame. Certain players are coming under the microscope as the Blues need to find a quick response to their problems before the crunch Champions League clash against Roma at Stamford Bridge.

Assured Andreas Christensen Proves Chelsea Do Have Strength in Depth

All the news prior to kick-off on Saturday was whether Eden Hazard would make his first Premier League start of the season. But one of the bigger surprises to come from the win over Stoke was made an hour before kick-off, when it was revealed that Andreas Christensen was going to be in Chelsea’s starting XI, in place of the suspended David Luiz.

Gary Cahill had been expected to step into the back three, as the more experienced and safe option, but Antonio Conte instead opted for Christensen to anchor the defence alongside Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger, in a fixture that is notorious for its physicality.

Selection headache for Conte

As it turned out, the decision was certainly vindicated, as Christensen gave another composed and assured performance in the heart of the defence, helping Chelsea to a clean at the bet365 Stadium. Per Squawka, Christensen completed six clearances and managed two interceptions. But the Dane’s most telling stat is his sublime passing accuracy. Being in the middle of a back three, Christensen is tasked with initiating attacks and ticking over possession. Christensen topped the passing statistics in the game, completing 75 passes with an accuracy of 92%.

Usual starter Luiz is famed for his passing ability in the back three, but Christensen demonstrated his ability to slot seamlessly into the starting XI, providing Conte with a very welcome defensive selection headache for the upcoming games against Atletico Madrid and Man City. Whilst it is not expected that Christensen will dislodge Luiz from the starting XI once the Brazilian completes his three-game domestic ban, the squad depth that was such a worry to Chelsea fans over the recent transfer window is beginning to look like less of an issue with each passing game.

Giving youth a chance?

One of the most pleasing aspects of Christensen’s rise to the first team may not even be his recent performances. The clamour for Chelsea to give ‘youth a chance’ over the last decade or so has been increasing in volume year by year. Who can be the first youth product to properly break into the first team squad and consistently play since John Terry?

There have been many false dawns; Ruben Loftus-Cheek was in and out of the first team picture for the past two seasons, before joining the never-ending army of players out on loan. Tammy Abraham looks to have the world at his feet, but will certainly benefit from a year playing week-in and week-out at Swansea. Players like Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Aké were controversially sold, leading many Chelsea fans to believe that this season would be another where they don’t get to see the array of talent that the club’s youth teams are developing.

Dane has all the tools

Step up Andreas Christensen, who, after a very successful two-year loan spell in the Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, returned to the first team fold relatively under the radar. Christensen started in the excellent win over Tottenham, and never looked out of place in Conte’s defensive line. Whilst it is still early in the campaign, and fans should not be getting carried away just yet, the 21-year-old undoubtedly possesses a maturity that belies his age.

The Dane is composed on the ball, has an excellent eye for a pass, and already seems to be popping up at the right time in the right place consistently with vital interceptions. With both Luiz and Gary Cahill now the wrong side of 30, Blues fans can expect Christensen to begin featuring more and more in the starting XI, and to become a mainstay of the Chelsea back line for years to come.

Davide Zappacosta: Who is the New Face of Chelsea’s Defence?

Confusion spread among Chelsea fans on deadline day, after the announcement that the club had reached an agreement with Torino for the £25 million transfer of Davide Zappacosta. All in all, it had been a disappointing transfer window for the Blues. Oxlade-Chamberlain had decided to leave London for the lofty heights of Liverpool, Juventus continued to play hard ball on Alex Sandro, Fernando Llorente decided to go valiantly attempt to dislodge Kane from his guaranteed starting position in the Tottenham XI, and even a reported late bid for Rafinha failed. The purchase of Zappacosta seemed to shout of desperation and a sheer lack of other ideas for defensive reinforcements.