Thomas Tuchel must confront unexpected Chelsea midfield reality after Arsenal disaster
Chelsea debate: Our team of Chelsea writers come together to discuss Thomas Tuchel’s midfield dilemma for the West Ham game after the loss to Arsenal.
Thomas Tuchel has several selection dilemmas ahead of Sunday’s clash against West Ham in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.
After conceding 11 goals in their last three home games, the Blues need a drastic improvement at home in the final weeks of this season if they hope to smoothly secure Champions League qualification. After the defeat to Arsenal, nearly all areas of the pitch could be altered for Sunday’s clash after a despondent Tuchel was left almost speechless by his team’s collapse against The Gunners.
As we do regularly post-game, Chelsea’s team of writers, Adam Newson, Scott Clayton and Daniel Childs, have assembled to look at the midfield area, which has been frequently rotated this season.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and N’Golo Kante started against Arsenal, with Jorginho an unused sub. Mateo Kovacic, who has been in fine form this season, is at least out for two weeks with an injury as Saul Niguez has been firmly on the fringes since his loan move from Atletico Madrid this summer.
Last season it appeared that Chelsea’s midfield was settled and confident, with Jorginho and Kante forming a solid base to lead the club to a Champions League. Now unexpectedly, it has become a massive concern with few players other than Kovacic showing a consistent level of form.
Coming up against a motivated West Ham side chasing European glory, who should Thomas Tuchel start on Sunday?
Going into this season, Chelsea’s midfield appeared to be a position of genuine strength. Jorginho was in the form of his career. N’Golo Kante too. Mateo Kovacic, meanwhile, had just started to marry his array of technical gifts with genuine output in the defensive and offensive thirds. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was also kept around, and Saul Niguez was added on loan from Atletico Madrid.
Yet as the campaign has progressed, the confidence in Chelsea’s midfield has been slowly eroded. And with eight games of the campaign remaining, only Kovacic has regularly performed at the level expected on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle ligament injury against Crystal Palace and is set to miss the next fortnight.
So for West Ham’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Tuchel has to cast his eye over his midfield options and decide who deserves an opportunity to regain form and confidence. That is far from an easy decision, but I suspect, given he didn’t feature against Arsenal, Jorginho will return to the double six and will be tasked with bringing control to a Chelsea side that lacked it against Arsenal.
I’d probably bet on N’Golo Kante being the Italian’s midfield partner. It’s somewhat a back-to-basics approach, a return to the two players who dominated Champions League knockout matches. It is a risk given the form of both, but Saul is simply not going to be match fit – he’s played just 15 minutes in the past month – and Loftus-Cheek struggled to continue his improved form against Arsenal.
Like a few years ago with Cesar Azpilicueta, if I could clone a player, then I’d do it with Reece James so he can play right wing-back and in midfield right now, but sadly, I do not have the capabilities to do that. This time last year, I would have had Mateo Kovacic as my third option in midfield. In that time, he’s moved up the rankings to be the nailed-on first for me currently.
I never thought I would say this, but I’m starting to get unhappy with Kante’s performances, so much so that I open with him not starting on Sunday. Loftus-Cheek has shown glimpses of what he can do in the last few games, but I’m always now worried that a run of games like this will see him pick up another injury.
I’m actually contemplating giving Saul a chance in midfield. I know he didn’t start the season off well and has had to find his feet over the last eight months, but I’m willing to give him a go and use some fresh legs because, at times, that midfield last night was all over the place. His partner for the match would be Jorginho. He’s fresh after not getting many starts in recent weeks, so hopefully, he can help us control the game.
Without Kovacic, it is very hard to feel overly confident about the midfield setup at the current moment. Kante, who has been an incredible player for Chelsea, looks worn down and lacking the transformative effect of last season. Jorginho has also struggled to impact things when called upon, with Tuchel linking it to the players’ fatigue given the number of minutes played for club and country.
Loftus-Cheek’s goal against Crystal Palace felt big but was followed by an unimpactful display against Arsenal, where he was at fault for losing runners in the lead up to Arsenal’s second goal. And Saul Niguez, well, it’s a shock to even see him still in a squad. My mind leads me to think Jorginho will be recalled for Sunday, but alongside who? I’d sway towards Kante, only in the hope a return to form is around the corner.
It is also wasn’t helped by Chelsea’s gaping issue on the left-side of defence on Wednesday night, an issue Tuchel cannot allow to continue against an inspired Jarrod Bowen, who scored against the Blues back in December. Honestly, I don’t know – all current combinations do not feel secure, which says a ton about the dilemma Tuchel faces.