Azpilicueta, Cahill, and Luiz. For the majority of matches last season, these three names were among the first on Antonio Conte’s team sheet. Conceding only 33 goals and boasting the Premier League’s third best defensive record, few opponents were able to break down the impenetrable blue wall that stood in front of Thibaut Courtois’ goal.
However, with the recent arrival of Antonio Rudiger from AS Roma last week, it appears that the Chelsea coach is looking to reshuffle his defensive pack for the upcoming season. So, where does this leave our current back three? Who should make way for the German international? Should anyone make way for the arriving defender?
In the 0-2 away defeat to Spurs last season, it became apparent that Chelsea had a major defensive weakness: aerial crosses. For both Tottenham goals, Dele Alli rose highest to head the ball into the net without struggle or challenge. However, what was most interesting about these two identical goals was the fact that it was the same opponent who had allowed the Tottenham attacker to jump: Cesar Azpilicueta. Although the Spaniard proved to be a huge success in a central role last season, Azpilicueta is not the tallest defender and, when given a taller opponent to mark, he is unable to challenge for aerial crosses. As champions, other teams will be looking to expose Chelsea’s weaknesses next season. Therefore, does the arrival of Rudiger, a defender who measures in at 6ft 3in, signal Conte’s intent to eradicate Chelsea’s aerial fragility?
During his first stint at Chelsea, David Luiz split opinion with his swashbuckling style of defending. The bushy-haired-Brazilian made a number of rookie mistakes and would often attempt to win balls that weren’t there to be won. However, since his return from PSG last summer, the charismatic defender has been a huge hit, displaying a new maturity to his game and providing a solid focal point for the defence. Yet, it remains apparent that Luiz still has one or two mistakes in him. For example, against Leicester at the King Power Stadium, the experienced defender was run ragged by the opposition attack and dragged dangerously out of position. Against better opposition in the Champions League this could cost Chelsea and expose the defenders beside him. Despite a much improved defensive display last term, is Rudiger likely to replace David Luiz in Chelsea’s back three?
Having won every trophy up for grabs in his five years at Chelsea so far, Gary Cahill has been a regular in the heart of defence. After replacing John Terry who was phased out by Conte last season, Cahill has stepped up admirably to replace the irreplaceable Chelsea legend, taking the armband and leading the team to a league title. But, there have been a few times this season where the former Bolton defender has shown signs of frailty. In particular, Cahill’s uneasiness on the ball has been highlighted on a number of occasions. An embarrassing back-pass against Arsenal and a similar mistake against Swansea shows that the England international, like David Luiz, is susceptible to the odd mistake. Could the no nonsense Rudiger be the perfect replacement for a clumsy Cahill?
So, who is going to have to make way for the arriving defender? Or will Rudiger have to sit on the bench and wait for his opportunity? Let us know what you think in the comments below.