The competent performances of Kepa Arrizabalaga have slightly lessened the fear of losing Edouard Mendy for AFCON.
Apart from some critique over his positioning for Kevin De Bruyne’s winning strike at The Etihad last month, the Spaniard has continued his rehabilitation under Thomas Tuchel, keeping three clean sheets against Spurs in the Carabao Cup and Premier League.
But with Senegal reaching Sunday’s final against Egypt in Olembé, Mendy, who was signed for £22m in 2020, will soon rejoin the Chelsea squad for the crucial closing months of the 2021/22 season.
But his return from international duty is not the only boost Tuchel will receive from key first-team players.
Other than Mendy, the most prominent name is Reece James, who has returned to individual training after recovering from a hamstring injury picked up against Brighton in December.
James’ return couldn’t be more vital for Chelsea given Tuchel’s issue trying to replace the influence of Ben Chilwell on the opposite side. James going down too only added further strain to a difficult January.
You make a very strong case that Mendy and James were the European Champions top two performers in the first half of this season.
Mendy’s run of clean sheets and outstanding stops put him top of the prevented goals ranking in the Premier League and saving more than expected.
Whilst James’ incredible creativity from the right, scoring four goals and creating five from 16 Premier League appearances.
How James will be reintegrated is quite obviously of more intrigue given his versatility and Tuchel’s recent shift to a four-man defence.
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James outstanding form as a wingback for Tuchel would probably lead most to assume the German will revert to the 3-4-2-1 formation he has used for the majority of his tenure so far. But James could slot in easily as a more traditional fullback on the right or left.
His creativity has been essential for Chelsea, and given the frustration over the Blues creativity over winter, the academy graduate’s return can quickly rectify that.
Also, you cannot help but feel both of these players are major characters within the dressing room who increase the level of those around them and better facilitate the football Tuchel wants to play at Stamford Bridge.
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