The back line for Chelsea remains a giant question mark heading into next season. With a plethora of options in the squad and even more transfer rumors, here’s the current state of the defensive unit.
Frank Lampard has used many combinations of players in defense this season—specifically at center back. The central defensive spots are seemingly there for the taking. Each individual has their flaws, but also presents a reasonable case to be the central defensive anchor. On the other hand, the fullback roles are looking more and more clear as rumors continue to stir.
While only the youth truthers would have pegged Reece James as the sole surefire defensive starter heading into next season, it seems fairly certain now. His defensive skill set, along with his crossing ability, makes the youngster one of the most versatile right backs in the country. Further, James has shown maturity well beyond that of a normal 20-year-old. He earned his place in the starting XI, possibly de-throning Cesar Azpilicueta in the process. Lock it in now, James is here to stay.
On the opposite end, the Blues are constantly being linked to a number of left backs including Alex Telles and Ben Chilwell. These rumors indicate Azpilicueta is unlikely to maintain his starting role next season. Azpilicueta is a serviceable left back for the time being, but he isn’t getting any younger. He’ll turn 31 in August. The club captain’s dressing room presence, professionalism and versatility on the pitch make him a valuable asset to Lampard’s Blues, so don’t expect the Spaniard to go anywhere anytime soon.
That leaves two open center back slots—assuming Lampard sticks with a 4-3-3—and multiple players to fill those roles. As it stands, Chelsea has four incredibly talented central defenders with unique flaws holding each back.
Antonio Rudiger, the senior member of the bunch, may just be the casualty of the group when things are said and done. He occasionally nails the long pass, but looks rather erratic on the ball a majority of the time. Rudiger’s inconsistent performances have paved the way for Chelsea’s younger center backs to wiggle their way into the XI. With the most experience under his belt and his spot in the starting XI wavering, rumors have begun to circulate regarding his future with the club. Rudiger has yet to replicate his top form since his injury and the club may try to sell him to fund other moves.
Andreas Christensen is an anomaly. Christensen was a staple in the Chelsea XI under Antonio Conte. He made 40 appearances across all competitions during the 2017/18 season, but has looked shaky since an error in 2018 led to Messi’s equalizer at Stamford Bridge. Christensen struggles with confidence as he seemingly beats himself up for every little mistake he makes. The fact of the matter remains, Christensen is super talented, but has failed to distance himself in the race for a starting role.
The Dane had a promising start to 2020 before the season came to a halt. He started seven consecutive Premier League matches before being sidelined against Everton. This gives fans a reason to believe Lampard may give Christensen one last shot before the 24-year-old departs Chelsea in favor of consistent play time.
Kurt Zouma is the poster boy for a turbulent career. Before a gut-wrenching ACL injury saw Zouma miss significant time, he was on the fast track to Chelsea stardom. The French defender has since revitalized his career in London. Many point to his early season struggles as a reason to offload the 25-year-old, but he’s quietly been one of the Blues’ best players this season. Due to his age, Zouma’s departure wouldn’t turn any heads. However, he seems committed to laying it all on the line for Chelsea. If play resumes for the 2019/20 season, expect to see the Zouma-Christensen pairing more often. Pay close attention; this may decide the fate of one—or both—of the players.
Lastly, the curious case of Fikayo Tomori. Tomori made his presence known at the club as one of the players Lampard was most familiar with. His goal-of-the-season contender at Wolves highlighted a young player at the top of his game. And then everything changed. Tomori tried to claw his way back into the starting rotation, but could never seem to push through. Of all defenders on the roster, he’s the least likely to be sold due to his age. That doesn’t mean he will be playing at Chelsea next season. If the Blues splurge on a world class defender and keep one or two of the aforementioned center backs, Tomori could go out on loan for a year.
The talent of the Chelsea center backs is undeniable, but Lampard has yet to find the connection that works. If the Premier League resumes this season, each center back is presented with an opportunity to prove their worth before the transfer window. If not, Lampard and the board could turn to the market to find a defensive anchor.
What do you think Chelsea’s back line should look like next season? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.