Chelsea have now played 6 games this season and the transfer window closed last week although if Chelsea were to buy a player from the Championship they still could, highly unlikely though. For all intents and purposes our squad at the moment will be the one until the January transfer window comes around and like last season now is a good time to dive into the players and see who starts in our best lineup and who can offer what to this team.
Our new Senegalese goalkeeper joined Chelsea from Rennes in the transfer window as competition for Kepa and probably the first choice based on Kepa’s current form. Mendy has played two games in a Chelsea shirt having conceded 1 goal against Spurs in the Carabao Cup. Mendy kept a clean sheet against Palace on a day when he really didn’t have much to do but still did well when called into action. Tall, strong and dominant in the air Mendy is everything that Kepa has not been for us since the last season and so he is a sight for sore eyes. Mendy’s distribution has also been quite good and his range of passing seems adequate for Chelsea at the moment. Mendy’s first season in Ligue 1 came with Reims where he sat 6th in save percentage with .762 keeping 14 clean sheets. This great form got him a transfer to Rennes last season where he sat 3rd in save percentage with .784 having kept 9 clean sheets in 24 games as Ligue 1 prematurely ended due to Covid. We have Mendy in the squad to keep clean sheets and save shots, the rest is an added bonus, if he can do that he will keep his position as the starting goalkeeper.
When I did this last season I wrote that Chelsea were sorted at the back with Kepa in goal and he would only improve. What followed was a very poor season in which he finished 20th with a save percentage of .545 keeping 8 clean sheets. Now the clean sheets are not entirely on Kepa but the save percentage is and the fact is that teams had very few shots against us but whenever they shot it felt like the ball would go in. It’s still a mystery as to what caused the strong decline and the best guess seems to be a mix of confidence and poor coaching from Hilario but nothing is certain. Kepa’s future at Chelsea is entirely up to him and maybe the reduced pressure will help him gain some confidence. If nothing else hopefully a good few games help him raise his value and get him sold at the end of the season.
Caballero is probably firmly 2nd choice goalkeeper at the moment based on recent performances. When called upon he does well and his presence should keep up the pressure on Kepa and Mendy to keep their levels high. Nothing else is expected from Willy this season.
31 year old Azpilicueta enters another season firmly fighting for starts at the right back spot. Azpi 36 games in the Premier League last season getting 2 goals and 6 assists. Azpi’s versatility is what gets him so many starts every season as he can play as both a right back and left back while also deputising in a 3 or as a centre back. Reece James did well to edge himself into the team last season and it looked like he will continue to do so this season. Azpi’s importance as a leader on the pitch is evident though as he came on against West Brom to help out Thiago Silva and both of them started against Palace in an assured defensive performance from the team. I expect to see Azpi play many games this season again but not always as a right back and he probably will be phased out as the season goes on and Thiago Silva gets adjusted. Azpi’s leadership is crucial though and his guidance for the likes of Reece and Chilwell is enormous.
Reece James has already played 3 Premier League games this season scoring 1 goal and getting 1 assist. Last season was a breakthrough year for the 20 year old and he did well to push Azpilicueta and get starts especially post lockdown. Reece should easily have more assists and will probably get them with the finishers this season while he looks to already be forming a good chemistry with Ziyech. Reece has to improve defensively but that will come with time. Strong, fast, great at crossing, and versatile I expect him to start many games this season as he slowly and steadily makes the spot his own for the coming years.
The legendary 36 year old Brazilian centre back joined Chelsea from Paris-Saint Germain on a free transfer this summer as Lampard looked to add more experience to our back line. Last season we lacked leaders at the back as many times we looked disorganised and panicked. Thiago Silva is essentially a stop gap but a very great one at that. Silva if managed correctly is an extremely fit player and he should only help our centre backs grow and mature as players. Silva has played 4 games for Chelsea this season and after an initial few hiccups he has settled in well. English still is a barrier at the moment but he speaks French and so do most of our defenders. I expect Silva to start most of our games with the other defenders switching between themselves based on form. I am a big fan of Thiago Silva’s from his Milan days and to see him grace Stamford Bridge for a season or two will be a joy to watch.
The question of who is Chelsea’s best centre back is a complex one but one player who seems to always get a big following is Kurt Zouma and it is fully deserved. Zouma was a mainstay of Chelsea’s back line last season as he made 33 appearances for Chelsea in the league. Still rough around the edge Zouma seems to have massively improved over the summer and alongside Thiago Silva he looked solid as Chelsea kept their first clean sheet of the season. Zouma already has 2 goals to his name this season and his positional awareness, pace and strength make him a perfect partner alongside Thiago Silva. I said last season that Zouma starts alongside any of our other centre backs and with Silva in that position this season I think Lampard might have found a regular defensive partnership for the coming season.
Christensen has played 3 games this season and looked good in mostly all of the games except his blunder against Liverpool which got him sent off. There is no doubting Christensen’s talent but he needs to improve his positional awareness and decision making if he is to get back into the starting XI. Too many times is Andreas caught sleeping or out of place which allows players to penetrate our back line. It makes sense as to why Christensen was heavily involved in the games where we conceded the most goals. With many games to play this season Christensen will get plenty of game time and more than enough chances to start those games.
Tomori played 15 games last season in the Premier League and started several of those games alongside Zouma during that brilliant winning run at the beginning of the season. This season he has only started 1 game in the league but was started both Carabao Cup games. Last season Tomori and Zouma was arguably our best partnership and while he is still young and has a lot of learning to do Tomori is very highly rated at Chelsea. It looked like he would be sent on loan this season but with rumours of Rudiger leaving Chelsea chose to keep him. Rudiger did not leave though and Tomori refused a loan to West Ham on deadline day, choosing to fight for his place. I put Tomori in the Christensen bracket in that they should put good pressure on Zouma to keep his form up. Fik is fast and strong and similar to Andreas he will get plenty of opportunities to play for Chelsea.
5 centre backs is not an ideal situation for Lampard but that is what he has in Rudiger, a 5th centre back. Lampard had decided to sell or loan Rudiger in this window and while it did seem harsh after he helped seal the deals for Havertz and Werner, from a form point of view it made sense. Rudiger is now 27 and the oldest after Silva. Rudiger has his good games similar to all players but to many times do Chelsea fans have high blood pressure when Rudiger is in defence. The unpredictability is a problem and while he is a great character in the dressing room that’s not a reason to keep him around. Sadly a loan did no materialise though and Rudiger will be at Chelsea until January at least. All the German can do is train well and hopefully show signs of development because last season he was heavily used by Lampard. This season though that doesn’t seem likely but he needs to stay professional.
Ben Chilwell joined Chelsea from Leicester during the summer as Lampard and Chelsea had made him the no 1 target for the left back spot. We arguably haven’t had a regular left back since Ashley Cole with Azpilicueta deputising over there in the Mourinho 2.0 years and then Alonso making it his place under Conte. Ben Chilwell is supposed to end that, having scored 3 goals and provided 4 assists in 33 appearances last season was a modest output from his position considering he was injured towards the tail end of the season. Chilwell has played 3 games for Chelsea this season having started 2, scoring 1 goal and providing 2 assists. Chilwell in his initial few games has shown the speed required from Lampard in his full backs and the attacking threat. Defensively Chilwell still needs to improve but really under the guidance of Ashley Cole and the position being is he should develop and grow at Chelsea for many years to come.
When I did this last season I had Emerson at the top expecting him solidify his position as an attacking full back under Lampard. I was wrong. After a decent enough start Emerson fell away and was rarely selected for rest of the season. This season Emerson has played 2 games and started 1 and he hasn’t looked that bad at all. Emerson has looked offensive at times but he has the speed to recover and really its all about whether he can concentrate and train well enough. I figure the default will always be Azpilicueta if Reece or Chilwell are injured but if Azpi is selected and we still need a left back then I would put Emerson in front of Alonso.
Alonso made 28 appearances for Chelsea last season scoring 4 goals and providing 2 assists. Alonso was great under Conte and as a wing back he is arguably still one of our better options but as a full back he just doesn’t cut it. Against West Brom this season he made an error that cost us the opening goal and was out run by several players as it looked like someone had put the Spaniard on slow motion. There is no doubting that Alonso offers an attacking threat going forward but he lacks the agility to track back and can’t make it on counters. Alonso or Emerson were supposed to leave during the summer window but neither could seal a move away and now both are here. They similar to Rudiger will just need to train professionally and if and when called upon need to play up to their standards.