There was very little time for Chelsea’s players and coaching staff to enjoy Sunday’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Yesterday was a recovery day at Cobham for those who featured in north London and today the focus shifts to the Carabao Cup and the visit of Aston Villa.
Chelsea haven’t won the competition since 2015 under Jose Mourinho, although it is hardly near the top of the club’s priorities. And the Blues are undoubtedly hoping to secure more illustrious silverware this term: the Premier League Champions League and World Club Cup for starters.
Yet the Carabao Cup could prove hugely important to Thomas Tuchel. It will provide him with an opportunity to rotate his squad, to give minutes to those on the fringes in an effort to avoid dissatisfaction becoming a problem the longer the campaign progresses.
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The Chelsea first-team group is not a small one; within it are countless full internationals. It was indicative of the quality available to Tuchel that the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ross Barkley and Malang Sarr didn’t even make the substitutes bench against Spurs.
Christian Pulisic’s absence over the past month, due to testing positive for Covid-19 and then suffering an ankle injury, has also not been felt such is the wealth of attacking talent in situ at Stamford Bridge.
The American star isn’t due to return tomorrow night, not according to Tuchel at least when he spoke to the media after Chelsea’s win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: “The game against Aston Villa is maybe too close, I hope I am wrong. This is my impression with him not in training so far. Let’s see tomorrow.
“Maybe he had a good progression today. Maybe it is possible. It would be super nice to have him but it is doubtful.”
Yet there will be several other stars hoping to get a start when Dean Smith brings his Villa side to west London. Here we pick out seven who will be keen to get onto the Stamford Bridge pitch to impress Tuchel and potentially earn a spot in the starting XI in the weeks ahead.
The last few months have not been easy for the 24-year-old. He didn’t feature for England at the European Championship – one of only three outfield players not to get any minutes – and on his belated return for pre-season, has found his place in the side taken by Marcos Alonso.
“We had some talks with Chilly about his situation,” Tuchel explained last week. “He knows that I would have done the same thing if it had been the other way round, to trust him if he was here and showed this kind of personality and attitude like Marcos did.
“They push each other and there are no further worries for Chilly. He has to be a bit patient and keep on training. It took some time, we had to give him a little bit of time to be a bit more patient with himself, to find the joy again and to find things a bit easier on the pitch, to not want to force it
“This is where we are now. Unfortunately, we only had three substitutes in the last matches in the Premier League otherwise we would have made him play some minutes, but he’s in the race now. The situation has changed for him, he’s in a good shape with his attitude and on the pitch so he can play any minute.”
Through no fault of his own, Chilwell went more than three months without making a competitive appearance for club or country. That at least came to an end against Zenit last week but he will be hoping to start tomorrow’s night clash and begin to challenge Alonso for the left wing-back role.
Signed on a season-long loan on transfer deadline day from Atletico Madrid, Saul was thrown straight into the Chelsea side when Aston Villa visited Stamford Bridge in Premier League action 11 days ago. It did not go well for the Spaniard.
Saul Niguez struggled on his Chelsea debut against Aston Villa
(Image: Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images)
Saul was not up to speed with the frantic nature of the Premier League. He was constantly dispossessed and Chelsea were fortunate not to concede from the many turnovers. It was no surprise that Tuchel brought Saul off at half time of the contest.
“I only had one workout so it was difficult for me,” Saul told Fabrizio Romano in an interview on Twitch “The language, the stadium, everything new to me.
“A lot of information and it was what everyone saw in the game, I was lost and not knowing where I was. It was difficult, but the way Tuchel approached me after the game, it made me feel better and it was really appreciated.
The 26-year-old hasn’t featured in the two games since but is likely to get another attempt to show his quality tomorrow night. And rather poetically it will again be against Villa.
Speak to anyone who witnessed Loftus-Cheek’s work during pre-season and the response will almost certainly be the same: he looked sharp, perhaps even back to his best. That hasn’t, however, resulted in a resurgence at Chelsea for the academy graduate.
Loftus-Cheek featured regularly in the Blues’ pre-season friendlies and was involved in the matchday squad for the UEFA Super Cup victory over Villarreal. Unfortunately, after the game in Belfast, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was forced into a 10-day period of self-isolation.
When he was allowed to return to training, he found himself well down the pecking order. And had the right offer been made for his services during the final days of the transfer window, it’s likely 25-year-old would have departed.
Loftus-Cheek remained at Chelsea but is very much on the periphery. He did make a short cameo against Zenit last week but was never going to make an impact in mere seconds. A start against Villa is certainly not out of the question, though, and if that happens, the challenge will be for the midfielder to step up.
The last 72 hours of the transfer window were eventful for Hudson-Odoi. On the fringes under Tuchel, interest in the services of the 20-year-old ramped up. Several Premier League sides touched base with Chelsea but the most realistic offer arrived from Borussia Dortmund.
A straight loan deal for the remainder of the campaign was put on the table. For Hudson-Odoi, it seemed the ideal fit. He could get regular minutes in his preferred role on the left of a front three. It suited everybody…except for Tuchel.
The German didn’t want to lose a player from his squad without having the opportunity to bring in a replacement. So the decision was taken to keep Hudson-Odoi at Stamford Bridge.
The academy graduate did start against Aston Villa immediately after the transfer window, but at right wing-back. Hudson-Odoi hasn’t featured in the two matches since but will hope for a role in the attack against Villa tomorrow night.
The German forward was one of the few undroppables under both Frank Lampard and Tuchel last term; only Mason Mount and Antonio Rudiger played more minutes in all competitions than Werner.
He started the opening two matches of Chelsea’s season – the UEFA Super Cup and the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace – but come the following game against Arsenal, Romelu Lukaku was available to make his debut and the Belgian was thrown straight into the side.
Werner has since been stuck on the substitutes’ bench and while there have been brief appearances in the latter stages of matches, his importance to the Chelsea side has diminished.
The 25-year-old will attempt to change that against Villa as it may prove one of the rare occasions that Lukaku is given a break from the Chelsea starting XI.
And if he is given the responsibility of leading the attack, Werner will need to be far more clinical than he has been over the past year.