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Chelsea must use gold to protect Silva
There was genuine surprise among Chelsea supporters that Thiago Silva didn’t start against Arsenal. Partly because the Brazilian only made a late cameo in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final win over Crystal Palace, but also because Malang Sarr and Reece James were being deployed on either side of Thomas Tuchel’s back three.
Sarr hadn’t played a Premier League match for Chelsea in over a month – he was not going to be fully match fit. And while James was near-flawless in his previous two outings at right centre-back against Real Madrid and Crystal Palace, it’s not a position he has played in with regularity since his days in the academy. An experienced head alongside the 22-year-old was logical, especially with Antonio Rudiger ruled out through injury.
Yet Tuchel opted for Andreas Christensen as Chelsea’s middle centre-back. The Dane had performed well at Wembley on Sunday against Palace but with his future seemingly lying away from Stamford Bridge – and given his last home appearance ended in a half-time substitution – it was a big call from Tuchel. And it did not pay off.
Christensen was at fault for Arsenal’s opener; his attempted back-pass to Edouard Mendy was under-hit and allowed Eddie Nketiah to race through and finish. That appeared to rattle the usually composed 26-year-old, who was sloppy with his distribution and also caught in possession on two occasions inside his own half.
As a result, it was no surprise that Christensen was replaced at the interval once again, although Tuchel insisted that was because of an injury issue rather than his costly error. “He said he cannot continue, so I think he had some problems,” the Chelsea head coach said in his post-match press conference. “I don’t take a player out because he makes one mistake.”
Tuchel had two centre-back options on the bench: Silva and Treovh Chalobah. Given the rather frantic nature of Chelsea’s opening 45 minutes in which two goals had been conceded and two scored, it was no great surprise he opted for the experience of the former. In the process, Silva became the oldest player (37 years and 210 days) to represent the Blues in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, Silva was unable to inspire an upturn in performance. The feverish nature of the contest was too ingrained for Chelsea to wrestle back control. Arsenal took advantage and struck twice more in the second period to come away from Stamford Bridge with a 4-2 victory.
Given his team selection, it’s almost certain that Tuchel wanted to give Silva the night off against Arsenal. The Brazil international has played far more minutes than expected this term and will be crucial in the run-in – and the FA Cup final against Liverpool next month. Chelsea need him fit and available.
The issue is, however, when Silva isn’t in the heart of the Chelsea defence, the rest of the side suffers as a result. That is far from the ideal position to be in given the defender’s age. He will not be able to go on forever. So once the ownership situation is sorted and the Blues can enter the transfer market once more, a top-quality centre-back will have to be signed, one that can take the load of Silva next season and ensure the Blues aren’t exposed in the 37-year-old’s absence.
Tuchel’s anger with Azpilicueta
It was a scene captured by the television cameras at full-time. As Cesar Azpilicueta made his way around the Stamford Bridge pitch, giving applause to the few Chelsea supporters who had stayed to the bitter end, one fan’s criticism irked the Blues skipper to the extent that he become embroiled in a pitchside argument.
Make no mistake, Azpilicueta cares deeply about Chelsea. It’s why he kissed the badge when he scored last night. It’s why he has played a crucial role under countless head coaches. And it’s why he is the only player to have won it all at Stamford Bridge. Yet that doesn’t mean he is infallible, as proved late on against Arsenal.
Only the Spaniard can explain why he held onto Bukayo Saka in the Chelsea penalty area as the ball drifted harmlessly behind them both. It resulted in the Gunners being awarded a soft but correct spot-kick that Saka converted, much to the anger of Tuchel on the touchline. And that frustration hadn’t dissipated when the German faced the media.
“Look at the penalty,” the Chelsea head coach implored, ‘it is an unbelievable goal [to concede] from our ball possession. There are no tactics behind that. We have three ball losses in ten seconds, then we do a foul when there’s not even the slightest danger. We foul a person, it is a penalty, and we rob ourselves of six minutes to get an equaliser. What is there to analyse? There’s nothing to analyse.”
Fix needed for Stamford Bridge problem
There were around 10,000 Chelsea supporters who were unable to buy a ticket for last night’s game due to the government sanctions the club continues to operate under. At least they didn’t miss a glorious victory in a London derby. In that sense, they were spared.
For the season ticket holders that did attend, there was an all too familiar feeling at full time: disappointment. Trips to Stamford Bridge over the past five months have become arduous. Tuchel’s side is simply not all-conquering at home in the fashion of Chelsea teams of old.
In fact, the Blues have only won three of their last ten Premier League matches at home. And two of those victories, against Leeds United in December and Newcastle United in March, came courtesy of last-minute winners from Jorginho and Kai Havertz respectively. It is a big issue that requires a quick fix from Tuchel.
That is because of the seven remaining top-flight games Chelsea have to play this term, four will take place at Stamford Bridge. So points cannot continue to be dropped and goals cannot be as easily conceded. A solution is required that goes beyond blaming the pitch, which Tuchel somewhat strangely did when offering an explanation for Christensen’s mistake against Arsenal.
“To say the pitch is difficult to play here maybe sounds like an excuse,” he said. “But it is a very, very difficult pitch that we have here. It’s not in our favour.”
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