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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Chelsea

Adam Newson of previews Wednesday's action

21 December 2021

Aside from a 3-2 defeat to West Ham on 4 December that knocked Chelsea off the top of the Premier League for the first time in two months, the Blues have been looked impressive in both domestic and European football since the last trip to the Brentford Community Stadium. What have you made of their efforts over the last couple of months?

Barring a couple of frustrating draws against Burnley and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, November was an excellent month for Chelsea. There were dominant performances and plenty of goals were scored. However, December has been far trickier. Injuries, particularly in midfield, have resulted in Thomas Tuchel fielding patched-up sides and the control the Blues tended to have in games has been lost. Chelsea were hugely fortunate to beat Watford, then lost at West Ham and drew away in Zenit with Ross Barkley and Reece James in midfield. The good news is that the injury woes, at the time of writing (prior to the game against Wolverhampton Wanderers), have eased and that should enable Tuchel's side to get back to their best.

Ben Chilwell scored the goal that earned Chelsea that narrow 1-0 win back in October, but he has since suffered an ACL injury. Particularly given he was in the midst of a rich vein of form at the time, how much of a blow was that news?

It was huge as Chilwell was in the form of his career and was integral to how Chelsea built attacks. Deployed at left wing-back, he was often tasked with dropping into central midfield when the Blues were in possession and helping progress the ball. Without the England international, the fluidity in the final third Chelsea discovered in November has been lost. Marcos Alonso is an able stand-in but doesn't have the same mobility and pace as Chilwell. 

Now they have made it to the quarter-final stage of the Carabao Cup for the first time since the 2018/19 season, how much of a priority will success in the competition be for the Blues this year?

I don't think I'm doing Tuchel a disservice by stating the Carabao Cup isn't at the top of his objective list. However, the Chelsea head coach has stressed on multiple occasions that if the club enters a competition, the goal is to win it. They did so back in August in the UEFA Super Cup and there is a desire to win further silverware this season. So even though there are likely to be changes to the starting XI, standards won't be allowed to drop. 

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Tuesday night?

That's a tricky one as Tuchel tends to rotate his side heavily for Carabao Cup games! There are the obvious threats in this Chelsea side – Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku – but whether any of that trio feature is dependent on several factors. I do feel this may be a game for Christian Pulisic, however. The American is still getting back to his best following an ankle injury, but is an excellent dribbler and has proved himself a reliable penalty-box threat. Expect to see him attacking the six-yard box when Chelsea flood forward. 

How is Thomas Tuchel likely to set up his side for the second trip to TW8 in just over two months?

One thing we know about Tuchel is that he will not deviate away from his three-man defence. Chelsea have used a trio of centre-backs since the German coach took charge in January and while there have been tweaks in the midfield and frontline, the defensive structure hasn't changed. There will be a decision needed on whether the Blues play with a front three or a two-man strikeforce but these are subtleties within a set system.  

You came close with a 2-0 prediction for the league game, but what’s your score prediction for this one?

I do think Brentford will score this time around. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends 1-1 on this occasion and the game is decided from the penalty spot. 

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