Rudiger gone, Koundé signed: 3 ways Thomas Tuchel could set up his Chelsea defense next season
It was after Chelsea’s victory against West Ham United that Thomas Tuchel confirmed what many supporters had already feared given the news the day before: Antonio Rudiger had decided to leave the club at the end of his contract. It was a blow for the Blues.
Tuchel has exploited Rudiger’s natural aggression and defensive instincts over the past 18 months, and the German has become one of the best centre-backs in Europe. That’s why he looks set to join Real Madrid this summer, with the La Liga giants set to offer him a lucrative four-year contract.
It won’t be easy to replace Rudiger, which Tuchel accepted in his post-match press conference on Sunday. “It will be incredibly difficult. Toni is what he is – a great personality, a great leader, he takes fear away from others, gives you confidence when he’s around you and has played 50-60 games in 90 minutes with incredible consistency.
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“So it will be difficult, but as always, no matter how much I love Toni and what role he played, there will be Chelsea without Toni Rudiger. We will find solutions.”
The problem Chelsea face, however, is that Rudiger is unlikely to be the only member of Tuchel’s defense to switch at the end of this season. Andreas Christensen is also expected to leave once his contract ends, with Barcelona being his likely destination.
This will leave the Blues facing something of a defensive overhaul – and there are plenty of different ways to do it. Here we look at three different ways Chelsea can line up for the next term under Tuchel if they enter the transfer market for reinforcements or choose to trust international solutions.
The experienced course
Koundé – Silva – Azpilicueta
If things had worked out differently last summer, Jules Kounde would have spent this season plying his trade at Stamford Bridge. Instead, Chelsea were unable to reach an agreement with Sevilla over the France international’s fee, and Trevoh Chalobah was fast-tracked into Tuchel’s squad, which certainly paid off.
The Blues’ interest in the 23-year-old remains however and there could be renewed pressure to sign Koundé this summer, although this is based on Chelsea’s next owners wanting to splash the cash to land the central defender. which will certainly not be cheap.
But let’s assume that Chelsea can land Koundé. The Frenchman is a natural to slot into the right side of the back three given his ability on the ball, comfort in wide areas, defensiveness and recovery pace. Sure, Reece James shares many of those qualities, but the academy graduate is far more menacing in a winger role.
Alongside Kounde in the Chelsea back, three would naturally be Thiago Silva, who remains one of Europe’s top defenders despite turning 38 in September. Who replaces Rudiger on the left isn’t an easy decision – and another signing might be needed – but if Tuchel wants another experienced header then Azpilicueta is a potential option.
A 12-month extension to the club captain’s contract was triggered earlier this month while he’s happy to see his contract, which now expires in the summer of 2023, Azpilicueta could prove an effective stopgap in the role by Levi Colwill. (more on him shortly) continues his development and Chalobah replaces Silva if necessary.
Whether such a backline would possess the depth required to guarantee that Chelsea will challenge for the title next season is debatable, but it would certainly not be lacking in defensive quality and experience, which, given the amount of changes taking place at Stamford Bridge could be significant.
The path of the academy
It has been proven over the past three years that many players educated at Chelsea’s academy in Cobham can progress to the first team if given the opportunity. The shining lights are James and Mason Mount – who both became key players under Tuchel and started in the Champions League final last year – but there are countless other examples.
Fikayo Tomori impressed in the Chelsea defense ahead of his move to AC Milan. Tammy Abraham, meanwhile, hit double digits in his two seasons as the Blues’ number nine before moving to Roma. Then there are Tariq Lamptey, Tino Livramento, Billy Gilmour, Conor Gallagher, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Armando Broja, all of whom have caught the eye either at Stamford Bridge or on loan at Premier League clubs.
Tuchel could therefore trust the club this summer, going up the Cobham treadmill. At Chalobah, he has a defender who will enter next season with a year of first-team experience at Chelsea under his belt. The 22-year-old has largely impressed no matter where he is used along the backline – and his small dip in form in March was a significant development milestone.
Chalobah could slot in on the right of the back three alongside Thiago Silva. And on the left could intervene Levi Colwill. The 18-year-old has proven to be one of Europe’s best young defenders this season, having thrived on loan at Championship promotion chasers Huddersfield Town.
He has been named as a future England international and is expected to return to Chelsea for pre-season. A naturally left-footed centre-back who has the physique to take on the most combative forwards in the Premier League and the passing range to beat the opposing press, Colwill is ready for the elite.
And while it would be a bold move by Tuchel to throw the teenager straight into his defence, recent history suggests the Chelsea head coach would likely be rewarded.
A mixture of both
There is one non-negotiable in Chelsea’s defense for next season: Silva. He’s proven his durability this season by playing the second-most minutes of any outfield player – and such has been his level of performance, he’s the favorite to be named the club’s player of the season.
The Brazilian will be the rock around which Tuchel will rebuild his back line. This is why a move to a four-man system is likely to take place, at least not consistently. Still, that doesn’t mean the German can’t have adventurous and forward-thinking centre-backs alongside Silva.
Koundé is certainly that. According to FBref, he is in the 80th percentile among defenders in Europe’s top five leagues for progressive passes per 90 (3.56) and in the 90th percentile for progressive carries (4.84).
Chalobah, meanwhile, doesn’t advance the ball as consistently as the Frenchman – 2.80 progressive passes per 90 – but is confident of getting out of the Chelsea defense to speed up attacks (3.80 progressive runs per 90) if necessary, as has been displayed throughout this season.
Some may wonder if the academy graduate would be able to slot in to the left of the bottom three. If so, it’s unlikely they’ve eyed Chalobah on loan at Lorient. While the demands of the role would be vastly different at Chelsea compared to a side at the bottom of League One, the 22-year-old has proven he can thrive in a possession-based team and would back himself up to play. adapt again. .