There weren’t too many selection dilemmas for Thomas Tuchel and his staff to ponder ahead of Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Porto, especially after Mateo Kovacic was ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury.
The front three which shone at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace would remain. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, the only recognised central midfielders in the travelling squad, would start. Reece James and Ben Chilwell were excellent in the first-leg win and would rightly keep their spots too.
Cesar Azpilicueta, an almost-ever present under Tuchel, would occupy the right of the back three. Antonio Rudiger the left-sided position.
But who started in the centre of defence, well that would’ve led to some thinking for the German and his coaching team.
Kurt Zouma played against Crystal Palace and was solid. Andreas Christensen, meanwhile, has been in excellent form over the past two months and had recovered from the knock which caused him to miss the weekend victory.
Thiago Silva, meanwhile, was brought in last summer for these big games.
The 36-year-old has an unrivalled wealth of experience in the Chelsea squad; he had made 86 appearance in the Champions League prior to last night’s fixture and guided Paris Saint-Germain to the final of the competition last season.
Tuchel opted to go for the Brazilian, who had only played 30 minutes of football since February 5. It paid off.
There was no need for blood, sweat and tears from Silva against the Portuguese giants, and that isn’t really his style. Instead, he was calm, composed and marshalled the Blues’ backline.
The centre-back helped Chelsea escape Porto’s high press on several occasions. Per WhoSocred, his pass completion of 89.4% was the highest of any Blues player.
More impressively, however, he completed eight of the ten long passes he attempted during the game. Jorginho was second in that category with five.
Silva’s ability to help Chelsea get up the field eased the pressure on the backline. Yet when called into action, the Brazil international was faultless. His determination and sheer will to get the Blues over the line was also evident in the second period when he opted to continue despite lacking awkwardly and jarring his knee.
Given his age, Silva will know there aren’t too many big European nights left in his career. This was one and he made the most of it.
“I hope to continue like this,” he admitted in an interview with Sky Italia after the game. “I want to continue to play at this level and get to the World Cup 2022.”
Chelsea have a decision to make on Silva’s future in the coming weeks. When the defender joined last summer on a free transfer, he signed a one-year contract. The club have an option to extend that for a further twelves months, however.
Earlier in the campaign, it seemed something of an inevitability. But the thigh injury that kept Silva out for two months following Tuchel’s arrival, coupled with the excellent form of Christensen, perhaps made a few observers pause for thought.
Yet Silva proved again last night just how valuable he is to Tuchel. His experience can’t be matched and he has bought into the culture at Chelsea in a way few could’ve expected – his coaching from the stands in the last-16 win over Atletico Madrid and support of the women’s team is very much proof of that.
He deserves another year at Stamford Bridge. The Blues must give it to him.