How Thomas Tuchel can solve two Chelsea transfer headaches without spending millions

Chelsea finally have every one of their first-team stars back at Cobham following the returns of Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Jorginho, Emerson and Thiago Silva yesterday. Yet with that comes another challenge for Thomas Tuchel.

There are now four different groups of players Tuchel and his staff are having to oversee.

The first consists of players who returned to Chelsea for day one of pre-season. The second includes the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and N’Golo Kante, who came back to Cobham on July 24.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen, both of whom reached the European Championship semi-finals with Spain and Denmark respectively were in a two-man group of their own. And then come the six players who undertook their first training session of the summer yesterday.

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“Like I’ve mentioned many times, it’s pretty unique preparation because we come from a tough season and a season that came without a pause in between, so it was very demanding without that break,” Tuchel explained after his side’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the Mind Series on Sunday.

“Now we had tournaments with the Euros and Copa America, and [some of] our players were used until the finals. It’s pretty unique and pretty demanding and challenging to organise.

“Tomorrow we will have four different groups on the training pitch because they are all in different physical conditions. We can’t simply put them together and see what is going to happen.”

That the majority of Tuchel’s squad isn’t match fit is a problem given Chelsea’s campaign gets underway in just eight days time. Several players will quite simply not be ready to start the UEFA Super Cup against Villerreall in Belfast on August 11 or the opening Premier League game of the season against Crystal Palace.

But that in turn opens up opportunities for others to step in. And in Trevoh Chalobah and Dujon Sterling, Tuchel possesses two academy graduates who have impressed during Chelsea’s pre-season campaign.

Chalobah was arguably Chelsea’s standout performer against Arsenal on Sunday. The 22-year-old played 86 minutes before being replaced by Jake Clarke-Salter and looked at home in the middle of the three-man defence.

That feat is all the more impressive considering that Chalobah has rarely played in that role at senior level. During his respective loan spells, he’s largely been used as the deepest midfielder, a position in which he can break up play, help his side maintain possession, and start counter attacks with his impressive range of passing.

The former two of those skills were evident against Arsenal. Chalobah, who played as a centre-back regularly for Chelsea at youth level, was always comfortable receiving the ball even when under pressure. And while he could have been more expansive with his distribution at points, his use of the ball was good.

Does all this mean Chalobah is ready to step into the Chelsea defence this season? No, of course not. Partly because the club already possess five central defenders and are trying to sign another in Jules Kounde, but also because there is a fair share of interest in the academy graduate.

Trevoh Chalobah has impressed in pre-season
Trevoh Chalobah has impressed in pre-season reported earlier this summer there was interest in Chalobah from clubs in Belgium and France who will be competing in this season’s Europa League. Other sides are interested too.

The situation for Sterling is different, however. The 21-year-old endured a difficult 2020 in which he had to recover from injury and a career-threatening illness. He made his return at the start of this year but wisely opted to spend the remainder of last season working and playing for the club’s under-23s to ensure he could get back to his best.

That’s proved beneficial this summer. Dujon has looked sharp throughout pre-season with Chelsea’s academy coaches impressed with his physical condition and desire to take his opportunity.

He has largely been used in the right of the back three, not his natural role, but has looked assured. There was one last-ditch tackle on Nicolas Pepe in the victory at Arsenal, in particular, that caught the eye.

Sterling is out of contract next summer, although he has been offered a new contract by Chelsea, as revealed earlier this month. What his next step is not yet clear.

Tuchel wanted a new right-sided player to be added to his squad ahead of the 2021/22 campaign. Sterling can be that given he is a natural wing-back. If the opportunity isn’t there though, he will not be short of suitors with several clubs interested in signing academy graduate on loan.

What pre-season has proved so far is that Sterling and Chalobah have the quality to make a difference within the Chelsea squad. They may not be guaranteed starters or make 50-plus appearances, but they can certainly play important roles across the campaign.

Whether Tuchel feels that way is a different matter. If he doesn’t, then it’s very likely two other clubs will get the benefit of hard work put in by Chalobah and Sterling during pre-season.

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