Injury frustrations grow Chelsea went into the clash against Manchester City without several key players due to injury. Reece James, Wesley Fofana and Ben Chilwell were absent. N’Golo Kante was sidelined. Ruben Loftus-Cheek wasn’t fit to return to the squad following his thigh injury.
And Armando Broja continues his rehabilitation work after undergoing knee surgery last month. There was another casualty on the day of the game: Mason Mount was ruled out after he picked up a knock in training on Wednesday. Still, the team selected by Graham Potter didn’t lack quality or Premier League experience. Raheem Sterling had a point to prove against his former club too.
Unfortunately, the winger’s evening ended after less than 120 seconds: an apparent hamstring injury suffered in a duel for the ball forced him off. Twenty minutes later, he was joined in the Chelsea dressing room by Christian Pulisic, who injured his knee in a collision with John Stones.
The extent of their injuries is not yet known. However, it means there are currently ten Chelsea players unavailable for selection. It is a staggering figure.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it and I’d ideally not want to experience it here,” said Potter after the 1-0 defeat. “But it is what it is, I have to just carry on. “You want to be here at Chelsea, have all your players available, a fully fit squad, and be able to compete. You know the demands of our supporters, who I thought were fantastic tonight, really supportive, got behind the team in a great way. It is frustrating for everybody at the moment.”
Secret Boehly transfer offers solution
Very few signings are now kept under wraps. The rise of dedicated transfer-focused accounts on social media and the incessant demand for macro updates from supporters has resulted in much speculation and build-up before a player is pictured holding their new club’s shirt. Yet in the summer, Chelsea co-owner and interim sporting director Todd Boehly pulled off the rare feat of keeping a transfer deal secret. The first anyone knew about it was when the Blues posted a short statement on their official website.
“Aston Villa and Chelsea can confirm that the clubs have reached an agreement for the permanent transfer of Carney Chukwuemeka,” it read. “The 18-year-old has been given permission to travel to London to discuss both personal terms and undergo a medical.”
Chukwuemeka ended up signing a six-year contract with Chelsea in a deal worth up to £20million. Yet predictably – and somewhat understandably – he has had to remain patient. There were just four senior outings for the midfielder during the first half of the campaign, although a hamstring injury kept him out for a few weeks prior to the World Cup. Yet after it was clear Pulisic couldn’t continue against Man City, Potter turned to the 19-year-old and was rewarded with an impressive display.
Chukwuemeka was played off the left of the Chelsea attack, not his natural role, and came closest to scoring for the Blues in the opening period as a shot from 20 yards struck the post. After the break, Chukwuemeka showcased his defensive diligence as Man City ramped up the pressure. He also continued to use the ball smartly as Chelsea began to play more on the counter. It’s clear Chelsea would like to sign a new midfielder this month; the club’s public and slapdash interest in Benfica star Enzo Fernandez is proof of that.
However, it is important Potter also makes good use of what he possesses in his current squad. Chukwumeka may be young but he proved against Man City he can handle the big stage.
Potter’s brave decision
Due to the injuries suffered by Sterling and Pulisic, Potter had only one substitution window to play with in the second period. He waited until the 68th minute to play his hand – and it was a triple change as expected. Lewis Hall, Conor Gallagher and Omari Hutchinson were all introduced; the aim being to add fresh energy and vibrancy to the Chelsea performance. Off went Marc Cucurella, Hakim Ziyech and notably, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The latter was a big call from Potter. Aubameyang hadn’t started the game but was introduced after just two minutes when Sterling was forced off. The 33-year-old had covered much ground but shown little else in possession. Still, the decision to substitute a substitute always comes with a level of scrutiny. Aubameyang clearly wasn’t happy with Potter’s choice. There was a cursory handshake with the Chelsea head coach as the forward left the pitch but a more telling shake of the head as he took his place in the dugout.
“Players want to stay on the pitch and influence the game – it’s a normal reaction,” explained Potter in his post-match press conference. “It’s a decision we have to make. He hasn’t played for a while and playing against Man City as a forward, sometimes you have to do a bit of work off the ball. He gave everything for the team and was fatiguing a little bit. So that was the decision.”
Signed on transfer deadline day from Barcelona, Aubameyang hasn’t lived up to expectations at Chelsea thus far. He has struck only three goals and has produced a string of performances in which he has been on the periphery. Chelsea need more, but it’s debatable as to whether Aubameyang can deliver it at this stage of his career.