Chelsea news as Mauricio Pochettino returns to the tried and tested for the Blues against Fulham ahead of the international break.
For the first time since arriving at the club Mauricio Pochettino has a true selection headache. It’s the type of dilemma that many imagined would be a common occurrence when he came in but an unprecedented rise and continuation of injuries has so far limited any tinkerman tendencies.
Pochettino is not known for rotation and hasn’t been able to experiment much with his team even if he had wished to. Although there were questions and unknowns heading into the season, since matchday one there has been little to ponder. From the first game of the season six players have started every game so far.
Fitness permitting and that number may well have been larger. Of the sizeable but youthful senior squad this season there are eight players to have started six or more of the seven games, evidence of the settled side Pochettino has led with. Only suspension has seen Nicolas Jackson not start every match whilst Malo Gusto was five from five after covering for Reece James.
As players start to return from injury and form is found slowly but surely, there are elements of his team that will face Burnley on Saturday that are set in stone and areas that are still flexible. Here, football.london takes you through three players that warrant their place in the side.
Chelsea have a new star in town. It’s early to say but the £40million paid to sign Cole Palmer from Manchester City already looks like it could turn into some very good value for money. The 21-year-old, starting just his first league game for the club against Fulham, has had an immediate impact.
So often under Pochettino the role behind the striker has been key. In initial pre-season plans it was Christopher Nkunku, then it pivoted to Carney Chukwuemeka and it’s not a surprise that the biggest struggle came in the weeks without either or Palmer. Now that he is in place everything is knitted together.
Palmer is finding natural pockets of space in the front-line and to the right that Conor Gallagher and Enzo Fernandez are not as adept at filling. His languid style and long legs makes it look unorthodox when it possession but he frankly rarely loses the ball. A product of the Manchester City academy, he was hardly going to be a bad player.
He has already made himself indispensable to the team in its current form and whether from the right wing and in the same balance as at Craven Cottage or in place of one of the midfield trio, though that also looks unlikely given their built up connection. In essence, Palmer’s impact of two assists in two starts has helped change the fortunes of Chelsea going forward and tampering with that wouldn’t make sense.
Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? Pochettino is hardly spoilt for choice when it comes to options at the back right now and only minor changes can really be made. After conceding just one goal in four games and three in the past seven, the defence hasn’t been much of an issue.
Two weeks ago and mistakes were being highlighted due to the lack of end product but three goals in two games and a slice of luck has turned the attention away from the backline. That’s a surprise in itself given that Marc Cucurella is playing as a right-back – let alone playing at all – and Levi Colwill continues at left-back.
It is arguable that only Thiago Silva is in a position that most expected at this stage of the season. Cucurella in the past week, though, has been a revelation. He has patched over a serious hole left by Malo Gusto and Reece James’ absence and it has frankly worked wonders.
Cucurella looks like a man fighting to prove a point, and there is still plenty of work to be done in order to overturn a disastrous first 12 months at the club, but right now there are no better options. Gusto is out for another game, James can’t return even if he was fit and breaking up the Silva-Axel Disasi pairing just to chance another full-back and shift Colwill centrally isn’t a logical play.
The 25-year-old has taken an unexpected chance and for now there’s no reason to move away from it.
Fitness permitting this is an absolute no-brainer. Mykhailo Mudryk has gone from no starts in all competitions to four in a row and bursts of the player Chelsea had hoped they had signed are starting to shine through. It has felt for a while that Mudryk could truly explode once things get going and although we’re not yet at that stage the positive steps have all been in the right direction.
Against Burnley, who will come onto Chelsea and press heavily, Mudryk’s speed and direct nature of running in-behind could be lethal and an effective way out of danger if they are penned in. It was on the swift counter and with a sucker-punch that Tottenham put five past Burnley and Chelsea will be hoping to do similar damage on their trip