When Maurizio Sarri arrived at Chelsea many were looking forward to seeing his attractive style of football that won him so many plaudits at Napoli. As can be guessed by the current mood amongst the Chelsea fanbase this football hasn’t yet been implemented to the effect we desired. In this article I am going to underline what I believe is the main issue in this team: The fullback positions.
At Napoli ‘Sarriball’ was so successful and one of the key aspects to play was triangles used to transition from one side of the pitch to another. When passing out from the back it was important every player made themselves available and moved the ball along quickly. At Chelsea many players are guilty of this but the fullbacks seem to be letting us down in a lot of footballing aspects so I will look at what each of our fullbacks offers as well as my ideal replacements.
Cesar Azpilicueta has rarely missed a game in the last few years and excelled under Antonio Conte as a wide centre back. However, he has struggled in this system and some of his weaknesses have clearly been exposed with more of an attacking responsibility. Despite gaining plaudits for his defensive solidity over the past few seasons, Cesar has struggled with positional awareness and is often beat one on one down the flanks and this has been costly at times especially in the demolition against Man City. Going forward is also something Azpilicueta has never been known for excelling in and despite having some good moments he often goes backwards when in good positions instead of trying to engage in quick link ups.
The scapegoat for Chelsea fans anger this season has been left back Marcos Alonso and it has to be said he deserves most of the criticism he gets. His position took the league by surprise in the 2016/17 title winning season and played a key role in this triumph. Despite featuring in the Premier League team of the season last year his defensive weaknesses were starting to show and this season it has gone down hill from the get go with Alonso now seemingly losing his place to Emerson.
We knew Alonso had a lack of pace but his low defensive work rate has seen us constantly have problems down his side this season without the protection of three centre backs. Alonso even started well in the first four games scoring once, assisting twice and winning two penalties but after this his defensive weaknesses really started to show. A real shock has been Alonso’s offensive decline as well. The Spaniard has a cross accuracy this season of only 17% which definitely contributes to our lack of goals and is shocking considering in this system it is pivotal the fullbacks provide width. In a recent survey by Marca, over 200,000 Real Madrid fans were surveyed and the results as shown below show Alonso is their first choice new left back. Maybe it is best for all parties if we cash in this summer.
MARCA poll winners via +200,000 voters on Real Madrid’s transfer wish-list:
Defender? De Ligt
LB? Marcos Alonso… excuse me while i laugh my f***ing ass off.— M•A•J (@Ultra_Suristic) March 20, 2019
Although I do think Emerson can be a good backup he still isn’t the ideal left back for us and his individual weaknesses were highlighted in the recent Liverpool loss. As for Davide Zappacosta his appearance tally this season is embarrassingly low for a £20 million + man so it would be best if we let him depart to Italy where he is better suited as he has never got a chance under Sarri.
As for my ideal replacements, I believe Chelsea already have a new first choice right back in Reece James, named in Championship TOTS and arguably the reason Wigan haven’t been relegated. James has excelled at both right back and central midfield with him looking really powerful moving up the pitch, contributing some great crosses and even having an eye for set pieces. It seems almost impossible that Cesar Azpilicueta will leave Chelsea this summer but I would be happy with him challenging Reece James. All in all, Reece is already on our books, better offensively than Azpilicueta as well as being more powerful so I believe he should be first choice right back next season.
Alonso is the most likely left back to leave this summer with the reported Real Madrid interest and many names have been thrown around about who the possible replacement should be. Alex Telles, Ben Chilwell and Ferland Mendy have all been mentioned but my first choice would be the first name mentioned Alex Telles. He has managed to get himself into the top left back category despite playing in the Primeira Liga with Porto so this says a lot about his ability. Very dynamic up and down the pitch Telles would be greatly suited to the Premier League’s physicality and he would definitely see this move as a step up.
Another name thrown around is our loanee at Bristol City Jay Da Silva. Though he has performed well in the Championship, I wouldn’t see Da Silva as a first choice although I would be happy to see him become back up should Emerson leave. It is important to note Bristol City do have an option to buy on Da Silva so his future may not be in Chelsea’s hands.
Although this article may come across as very negative it is the sad reality that our current fullbacks are just not good enough in all the aspects needed to make an possession based attacking style of football work effectively so a revamp is needed. My first choices on the defensive flanks would be Reece James and Alex Telles, intereact below and let us know yours.
By Joe Martin