As pre-season gets underway and Chelsea have a transfer ban, thinking about a potential squad for the season ahead is a bit easier. In the posts to come I will look at all areas of the pitch and players who could be involved in the season ahead. Some stats and personal opinions will be used to see who should start and who should be part of the squad for next season.
When it comes to the goalkeeping position things are pretty straightforward, Kepa is no 1. Bought last year from Athletic Bilbao for a world record fee (goalkeepers) Kepa took no time at all to settle into the Premier League. Similar to his Spanish counter part De Gea who he displaced from the starting XI of the Spanish team, Kepa is agile and his quick reflexes. Kepa is also key to a possession based system because he is good with his feet. Last season Kepa was 3rd in clean sheets with 14 only behind Alisson and Ederson. Kepa also conceded 39 goals last season in 36 games the goals would have been even less if we hadn’t had such heavy losses. In the Europa League Kepa kept 7 clean sheets in 13 appearances conceding only 8 goals. Kepa did refuse to come off the pitch against City in the Carabao Cup final but he only grew from that incident and acknowledged he made a mistake and he just wanted to help the team. Kepa was then key in our run to the Europa League final making several saves in crucial situations. Lampard has got a goalkeeper for years to come.
The back up to Kepa should be Caballero who has been an able deputy for the last two seasons and has shown when called upon that he is more than up for it. Agile and great in penalty shootouts Willy might not have the same physical characteristics as Kepa but his experience makes up for it. At 37 Caballero is looking at most likely his final season at the club and should play a more guiding figure for the other goalkeepers.
Cumming should most likely be our 3rd option at goalkeeper. At 19 he was a key figure in last seasons youth teams and has earned good reviews as far as his goalkeeping capabilities go. Lampard could chose to loan Cumming out for next season for him to gain experience but if he stays he should be third option.
Starting at right back should be Cesar Azpilicueta who has been a mainstay in the defence for several seasons now. When it comes to Azpi you have a leader thats not the most vocal but leads by performance. Offensively Azpi is not the most dangerous right back but defensively he is solid and is still one of the best in one on one situations even though his legs are giving way at the age of 29 now. Azpi made 57 appearances last season providing 1 goal and 9 assists. Defensively Azpi made the 2nd most blocks (14), topped interceptions (43), topped tackles (105), and topped crosses (118). These stats just back the point that yes going forward Azpi does not have much to offer but defensively his influence is immense. The plus point with Azpi is that he has played left back under Mourinho and centre back under Conte and so he can be adjusted to other positions.
19 year old Reece James was Academy Player of the Season in 17/18, and then went on loan to Wigan last year where he was named Player of the Year and given a standing ovation on his departure. Reece made 46 appearances last season providing 3 goals and 3 assists from right back. Reece would have had plenty more assists if Wigan had finishers up top. Reece averaged 2.1 tackles per game and 0.9 interceptions per game. Reece is your modern day full back who is also built like a tank, he’s good at crossing, dribbling, free-kicks but also strong defensively. Reece is the reason the likes of Zappacosta are better off elsewhere and Azpi might need to be accommodated elsewhere in defence. Reece has the added benefit of playing as a CDM. Reece injured his ankle in the Toulon tournament but is already back running and hopefully should feature later in pre season.
Zappacosta has not played that many games since his move in 17/18 which was more of a panic buy on deadline day and while he is not a bad defender he is better off leaving on loan or being sold this summer. Zappacosta deserves to play regularly and if he stays he will most likely be 3rd choice.
At 32 David Luiz is definitely one of the experienced players in next seasons squad. David came back to Chelsea from PSG in 16/17 and has since been a focal point at defence although he is a player that has always split opinion amongst the fanbase. On his day David Luiz can be brilliant but he is also prone to occasional errors which more often than not tend to lead to goals. Luiz is also losing his legs and was never really fast in the first place. Luiz made 50 appearances last season providing 3 goals and 2 assists. Luiz topped blocks (18), was 3rd in interceptions (35), was 3rd in tackles with (41), topped clearances (144), and was 2nd in aerial battles won (82). The lack of interceptions and tackles compared to Azpi would probably be because he played further back where as Azpi had the license to move forward. Luiz will be a major player as far as experience is taken into account next season but on the pitch I think there are better players in the squad than him and so Luiz would be my 4th choice centre back for next season.
26 year old Rudiger was bought in 17/18 and was a key player alongside Christensen and Azpi in that season. Last season Azpi kept Christensen, and Cahill out to partner Luiz at the centre. Rudiger has the attitude of a leader and is quick and physical in his challenges. Rudiger made 44 appearances last season scoring 1 goal. Rudiger made the 3rd most blocks (8), 4th most interceptions (32), 4th most tackles 34, 2nd most clearances (95), and topped aerial battles won (83). The stats show that Rudiger was not a massive downgrade on Luiz and actually played fewer games in the 2nd half of the season and so the stats are slightly skewed. Rudiger is still young and has plenty to give the team as well as being a leader on and off the pitch and so I would have him fighting it out for the first CB position with our next defender.
Christensen was on loan at Monchengladbach and had a breakout 17/18 season in which he displaced Luiz and was a regular under Conte. Christensen started that season very well but suffered burnout during the 2nd half and had a dip in form. Last season Christensen was behind Luiz and Rudiger in the pecking order but Rudiger’s injury turned to Christensen’s fortune as he played a more prominent role in the 2nd half. Christensen made 29 appearances last season 8 of which came in the Premier League. Christensen made the 4th most blocks (2), 6th most interceptions (4), 6th most tackles (10), 5th most clearances (27), and 5th most aerial battles won (18). In the case of Christensen the stats don’t tell a lot because he barely played compared to the rest while if you look at the 17/18 season then he features in the top 3 defenders for Chelsea. At the age of 23 Christensen is still very young and so I would have him start or fight it out with Rudiger for one of the two CB spots. I do think Christensen’s characteristics of composure on the ball would compliment our final CB very well.
Zouma was bought by Chelsea in January of 2014 and was loaned back to St.Etienne for six months. Zouma then properly joined Chelsea for the start of the title winning 14/15 season. Zouma made 26 appearances for Chelsea that season and then featured 32 times in the dreaded 15/16 season. Zouma suffered an ACL tear towards the end of the 15/16 season and spent most of the 16/17 season recovering at Chelsea. Then Zouma spent the 17/18 season on loan at Stoke City where he made 37 appearances and was easily there best defender along with Peiters. Sarri decided that Zouma should be loaned out and he spent last season on loan at Everton which was an upgrade on relegated Stoke City. At Everton Zouma kept out Yerry Mina to partner Keane at the back and made 36 appearances scoring 2 goals and assisting 2. Zouma made the 2nd most blocks (12), 2nd most interceptions (54), 4th most tackles (32), 2nd most clearances (120), and 2nd most Aerial battles won (98). Now Everton were more vulnerable defensively than Chelsea and that is one of the reasons why Zouma tops all the above defenders. It is not the only reason though Zouma is arguably our best defender if he had not suffered that injury then he would have been a mainstay by now at our club. A great dribbler to boot Zouma starts alongside any of the other CB’s.
21 year old Fikayo Tomori spend last season loan at Derby County which was managed by Lampard. Tomori was a mainstay for the club and won the player of the season award for Derby. Tomori made 55 appearances for Derby scoring 2 goals providing 1 assist, averaging 2.2 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, 3.9 clearances, and 0.8 blocks. On the ball Tomori was very good and Lampard could look at him knowing Tomori already knows his system. Tomori has a chance to fight it out with the rest for a starting position but I have a feeling that unless David Luiz accepts a relaxed role Tomori would be better off being loaned out to a Premier League club that would play him regularly. Expect Tomori to feature in pre-season but beyond let’s see.
Emerson was bought in January 2018, and really only displaced Alonso in January 2019 after poor performances by Alonso and pressure on Sarri from his surroundings. Emerson who is good on the ball and defensively as well while also having pace had to work his way into the team. Emerson made 27 appearances last season 10 of which came in the Premier League. Emerson provided 1 goal and 2 assists. In those 10 appearances Emerson made 1 block, 8 interceptions, 14 tackles, and 28 crosses. Similar to Christensen Emerson barely had game time and to compare these stats to the likes of Azpi or Alonso would be biased. The fact is that when Emerson played there was greater movement going forward which gave the likes of Hazard and Loftus-Cheek the ability to link up and play pull the defence. The agility helped in tracking back as well and it is a testament to Emerson that he was selected ahead of Alonso for the Europa League final. Still only 24 Emerson has much to offer and learn and in my opinion he starts at left-back next season.
Alonso is a player that splits opinion amongst the fanbase. As a wing-back under Conte Alonso was great as it was a position suited to him and his marauding runs forward which also gave us some crucial goals. As a full back Alonso still managed those runs but lack of pace meant that going forward left massive gaps for wingers to take advantage of. Pair Alonso with Luiz on the left and wingers had a party on that side. Last season Alonso made 39 appearances for Chelsea scoring 4 goals and assisting 7. Alonso was 4th in blocks with (2), 2nd in interceptions (39), 2nd in tackles (74), and 2nd in crosses (98). These stats can flatter to deceive as Alonso did play much of the Premier League season while Emerson was preferred for the Europa League. Alonso is a good defender it’s just that he is not suited for the formation and style managers like Lampard and Sarri want to play. Pace, agression, dribbling are not his characteristics and unless we make him striker and let him score Alonso might have to play second fiddle to Emerson next season.
Juan Castillo is our 19 year old academy left back who looked like he was leaving only for him to decide to stay as Lampard was appointed and Jay Da Silva left. Castillo had breakout season last year for the academy as he made 33 appearances, scoring 3 goals and assisting 10. Castillo much like Reece James has many of the characteristics of a modern day full back. Pace, dribbling, good offensively and defensively as well as the ability to cross and assist. While not likely to start much Castillo could feature in cup games and move Alonso to the 3rd place position in left backs. With over a month to go in pre season I wouldn’t be surprised if Alonso was sold although no likely.
We continue tomorrow with midfielders.