Graham Potter can’t catch a break. Chelsea can’t catch a break. The curse of the defender? With Reece James and Wesley Fofana already ruled out until the World Cup break at least – James may still play some small part in the tournament if his recovery is quick – and now Kalidou Koulibaly is set to miss Chelsea’s decisive Champions League match against RB Salzburg.
The Senegalese international wasn’t part of the open training session ahead of the match in Austria and is a doubt for the game itself. Chelsea will qualify if they win and could end the night as group winners if AC Milan beat Dinamo Zagreb. That scenario would allow Potter some much- needed rest bite for the final group game against Zagreb at Stamford Bridge in two weeks time.
Given the current injuries throughout the squad and the intense schedule ahead of the World Cup break, having a matchday in which to rotate players at will would be a massive boost. Koulibaly is seemingly unlikely to play any part in, after missing the final training session and not being fit enough to make the bench against Manchester United on Saturday.
The 31-year-old, who Potter revealed felt his knee at the end of the Brentford match – a game he played 90 minutes in – missed the match and left the Blues without any options for the bench in defence. Marc Cucurella once more played in the left-sided centre-back role but was subbed off after just 35 minutes, the second time in a week that he hasn’t made the second half after starting, and Koulibaly is the most natural player in that position in the squad.
Chelsea switched to a four-man defence from that point in which Thiago Silva and Trevoh Chalobah played in the centre, and the pair were largely solid and limited Manchester United’s chances for 60 minutes. Chalobah’s role in the squad is still deeply underrated, and he has become an integral part of Potter’s current setup. For Silva, the trip to Salzburg may have been one that Potter and he lined up as a rest game. At 38, his minutes have to be carefully managed.
Although the Brazilian was absent against Brentford and has only played weekend matches in the last week, he has largely been allowed to recover for away European matches. So far this season, he didn’t play in Croatia against Zagreb and remained at home but did travel to Milan such was the importance of that fixture. The lack of options at the back alone meant he was always likely to join his teammates in Austria, but given the choice, and ahead of matches against Brighton, Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City before the winter World Cup, this may have been a game he wasn’t pencilled in as playing.
Unless Potter wants to use an unorthodox and weakened defence with Azpilicueta at centre-back and Chalobah in a three or four man system, Silva is now going to have to play and likely feature in almost all of the game . Last season Silva played in two of the three away group matches, but this season’s schedule is tougher, and the defender is another year older.