Blues fans across the world averted their eyes last week, not only due to the poor result against a flying Manchester City side but also due to the sight of a hobbling Alvaro Morata who was forced off after injuring his hamstring on the 35-minute mark. The Spaniard had been making lightweight of the Premier League and had just come off scoring a hat-trick against Stoke and scoring the equaliser against Atletico Madrid. So needless to say, it was vital Chelsea kept him fit for a game as big as a clash with Pep Guardiola and the Citizens. Originally Chelsea’s medical team suggested the injury wasn’t a lengthy one, but the Spanish National side’s medical team suggested that the Ex- Madrid maestro would be out for up to 5 weeks. The conflicting reports have left Chelsea fans in a bit of a “no-mans land” with no tangible evidence to say which report is more valid one way or the other. Chelsea spirits were lifted recently though when Alvaro Morata posted a video on Instagram of himself riding a bike at the Cobham training ground. Considering Chelsea’s recent luck with injury, including last season where the core of the side were able to go uninjured for the course of the title bid, Blues’ fans should take this in their stride, however, disheartening it is.
N’Golo Kante: a rock, a midfield warrior, PFA player of the year 2016-17. You can’t really overstate how much of an effect the French marauder has had on a Chelsea side, who previous to his signing, had finished an abysmal tenth. The midfielder has made 175 tackles; 31 more than any of his rivals in the statistic. He also completed a fantastic 157 interceptions last season, a field in which he again outnumbered all other competitors. This coupled with two title victories in two campaigns meant Kante was able to force his way into Didier Deschamps’s French national side establishing an ever-present position, despite competition from the likes of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso. N’Golo had also made a fantastic start to this season answering his critics thus far who questioned whether or not he would be able to apply his talents to the continental game by starting in two big wins for the blues.
In France’s trip to Bulgaria, N’Golo was also forced off due to a hamstring injury (the extent of that injury is still unknown at the time of writing). This would be a massive blow for Chelsea as it has been well documented that their midfield, while not lacking quality, certainly lacks numbers. Should the injury be lengthy the Blues would be forced to face two probable options. The first would be that the midfield three that have worked well so far in spells this season continues and would see Tiemoue Bakayoko pair (a recovering) Danny Drinkwater, with Cesc Fabregas in the attacking midfield position. The second would see a two-man pairing of Fabregas and Bakayoko.
I believe the first option to be the best bet, Tiemoue Bakayoko joined Chelsea from Monaco in the summer and had previously been in a pairing with Fabinho. It was a dynamic partnership that led to a title success for the red and whites. Bakayoko was the more defensive of the two and would rarely be involved in the attack, with the exception being from corners or when he drives into the opposition’s half from deep. Fabinho was entrusted to provide the assists from midfield, knowing that Bakayoko would be there to stop any potential counter attacks. Bakayoko’s role thus far at Chelsea has been slightly different, with Kante already in the side doing all the “dirty work,” Bakayoko has had the freedom to roam around the pitch winning aerial duels and providing the same driving runs from deep to help Chelsea’s counter-attacks.
Danny Drinkwater previously shared a similar partnership with Kante at Leicester where they played a pivotal role in Leicester’s maiden Premier League triumph. With Bakayoko being a similarly styled player to Kante, it is easy to see Danny Drinkwater excelling in a midfield pairing with the Frenchman.
Michy Batshuayi remains the only other forward option for the Blues, with Morata seemingly out for Chelsea’s game against Crystal Palace at least. While not the same player as Morata, Batshuayi has his key attributes that make him a potent goal threat, especially against a Palace side that have lost all of their opening seven games this season, scoring zero and conceding seventeen. Despite the limited opportunity, Batshuayi already has 14 career goals for the club. His prolific habit of scoring is backed up by the fact that he has scored a goal at the rate of every 79 minutes for Chelsea, a rate that betters even Harry Kane’s.
At the end of the day, the decision comes down to Antonio Conte, who will have to deal with these injuries in the coming games. The Chelsea squad is thin enough as it is and with Champions League games and Carabao Cup games in sight, this squad will be tested to its limits, Antonio Conte with it.