Thomas Tuchel’s biggest Chelsea headache right now is Antonio Conte’s area of expertise
Chelsea’s disappointment in Brighton was part of a wider run of just three wins in the 10 top-flight games since the start of December.
Of those, Chelsea lost twice and suffered five damaging draws, three of which saw them give up 1-0 leads. All told, they have dropped 13 points from winning positions this season. Manchester City have dropped zero, and that is the difference between first place and Chelsea’s current position, where defeat this weekend leaves them liable to be overtaken in the table by two of their fiercest rivals.
Man Utd are six points behind Chelsea having played a game fewer, but more alarming is that Arsenal have enough games in hand to make up the nine points separating them.
The most immediate threat, though, are currently managed by someone who would take particular pleasure from climbing above the reigning champions of Europe.
Spurs boss Antonio Conte has a thorny history not just with Chelsea, but with this fixture, too. It was Tottenham who ended Chelsea’s 13-match win streak in the Premier League in 2016/17 when Conte was in charge. He was in charge once again when Tottenham won their first game at Stamford Bridge in almost three decades in 2018 (and their only victory since 1990).
This Sunday, he will want to be on the other side of the same result.
Chelsea vs Tottenham odds with William Hill*
- Chelsea to win: 7/10
- Draw: 11/4
- Tottenham to win: 19/5
All odds accurate at the time of writing. You must be 18 or over to gamble. For more information, visit begambleaware.org
The root of Chelsea’s problems is a concept with which Conte, the ‘wing-back whisperer’ is intimately familiar.
Put simply, Chelsea are struggling because Ben Chilwell and Reece James are injured. The duo are Chelsea’s main attacking outlets but also have strength defensively to be able to cover for themselves – something Chelsea just aren’t getting with Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta.
The Chilwell injury triggered Chelsea’s downfall, the Blues winning just one of their next four games after he limped off against Juventus, drawing with Man Utd and Zenit while just about beating Watford and losing to West Ham.
Then came the busy period in mid-December — a month in which Chelsea have historically struggled — that brought more draws before James joined Chilwell on the sidelines.
Between them, Chilwell and James have been directly involved in 15 goals for Chelsea across all competitions, with the right-wing-back particularly important in scoring five and recording six assists. Chilwell’s three goals and one assist comes at 0.32 and 0.11 per 90 minutes, among the better numbers in the Chelsea squad.
The problem for Chelsea is that injuries cannot be instantly solved, unless they employ Merlin in their physio department to work some magic.
Chilwell, in particular, is proving tough to replace, and Chelsea are still trying to find a solution in the market, with three options having been mooted in the media more than others.
“One option that we love as a person”
It seems Chelsea won’t stop trying to recall Emerson from loan until either Lyon let him leave or the January transfer window ends.
“One of the possibilities and the players we know and that we love as a person is Emerson,” Tuchel told reporters.
“But we need to check. We are not into details. We are discussing and reflecting and this will go on for the coming days, maybe weeks.”
This is the dream option for Chelsea, as it would cost less than a new player (which could still be more than £3 million in compensation), and Emerson already knows the squad and the system. Less risk for a good reward, and Chelsea aren’t making any long-term commitments for a short-term replacement.
“An insurance policy”
Another move for Chelsea that has already happened is the return of Kenedy from Flamengo. The 25-year-old struggled in his six months back in Brazil, playing just 530 minutes across 17 appearances towards the end of the 2021 season.
Chelsea were clearly unhappy with his game time and when he was first recalled, it was reported that it would be to send him somewhere else.
“Kenedy seems to have come back as an insurance policy if Chelsea can’t get anyone in,” Telegraph journalist Matt Law recently told the London is Blue podcast.
“I think the plan is still very much to try and get someone in and send Kenedy back out [on loan].”
But the closer to the January transfer deadline nears, the more Kenedy has been touted as a potential back-up at left-wing-back, having trained with the Chelsea team this week.
Last-minute Sergino Dest bid?
The wildcard move for Chelsea would be to make a long-term signing in January, and in Sergino Dest they would have a pretty decent utility man.
The Barcelona full-back has been linked with a move to Chelsea this month by Marca, having reportedly realised he will ‘not get many minutes under Xavi.’ This is despite his agent having recently stated on the record that Dest has no desire to leave.
Dest’s biggest selling point is that he is primarily a right-back but can also play on the left, so would be capable of replacing both Chilwell and James through their injuries. In La Liga so far this season, Dest has averaged 0.28 assists and 1.57 chances created per 90 minutes.
Fatigue is another factor plaguing Chelsea, who have had to rush players back sooner than they would like to fulfil a fixture list that has seen them play 15 times since the start of December, and six times between New Year’s Day and their match with Brighton on Tuesday (18 days).
But with respect to their squad troubles, how Chelsea could do with Conte’s touch to transform one of their wingers into one of the league’s best wing-backs, a la Victor Moses.