Kurt Zouma Andreas Christensen 09
SIMON STACPOOL / OFFSIDE

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard held his weekly prematch press-conference this afternoon, and alongside more concerning injury news relating to midfielder N’Golo Kante, he also dismissed the idea that Antonio Rudiger would return to action this weekend.

The German defender has been back training with the first team for some time now and played in the development squad game in midweek, so it’s no surprise plenty of people were expecting tomorrow to mark his return to first team action.

However as I pointed out in my piece yesterday, his most recent quotes on the matter hardly gave the impression he was on the verge of a return. Furthermore, playing in a midweek game after a long injury layoff was almost a guarantee he wouldn’t feature from the start tomorrow in the early kickoff against Norwich. That possibility has now been ruled out by his manager, who hinted at a return possibly even as far away as the international break.

We don’t expect that to be the case. If he could play for the U23s this week, he will be fine to play for the first team next week at home against Sheffield United – barring any unexpected setback.

While Rudiger’s experience and quality make him a certain to play once he’s fit; the two players competing to replace him both will now receive a final audition tomorrow to show their new manager they are the right choice to partner the Germany international.

Neither has shone through the three games they’ve played together so far this season, but they were both heavily exposed by a midfield lacking Kante until the Leicester game, and they have both improved after that opening-day horror-show against Manchester United. Andreas Christensen seems to have the lead over Kurt Zouma mainly because of the Frenchman’s howler that day in the North-West, as he gave away the penalty that began the rout. But both have a claim that they can improve on with a good game in the early kickoff tomorrow.

Their qualities are quite different, and it may be that Frank prefers Christensen for his quality on the ball or Zouma for his ability in the air rather than for how they perform tomorrow. But whatever his reasoning, they both have 90 minutes tomorrow to give a final showcase of their abilities before the centre-back rankings are crystallised.

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