Chelsea are flying high in the Premier League under Thomas Tuchel, but their form could be threatened by instability in defence, where four players are facing uncertain futures
Chelsea are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table, on a five-game winning streak and through to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.
Thomas Tuchel’s side needed a penalty shoot-out to get past Southampton on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge, but they got the job done to ensure another option of silverware remains open – something which can’t be said for Manchester City.
But while things are going swimmingly on the pitch, there is a slight cause for concern off it at the moment.
That is due to the contractual situations of Chelsea ’s defence, which has been the bedrock of their success in 2021 but could be about to turn into something much more problematic.
Antonio Rudiger’s future has long been a talking point at the club, given he is out of contract in June and attracting plenty of admiring glances due to his impressive form. But Rudiger is not the only defender in that boat.
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Andreas Christensen is also out of contract at the end of the season, while veterans Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva make it four defenders who could leave on free transfers come July 1 next year.
According to Transfermarkt, the only other current Chelsea players who will require action this summer – either a contract extension or a wave goodbye – are Saul Niguez, who is on a season-long loan from Atletico Madrid, and Lewis Baker, who is playing for the club’s Under-23 side after a season on loan with Trabzonspor.
The squad is settled, apart from at the back. The situation needs addressing, because it could cause instability in the ranks – something Tuchel could do without as he tries to sustain a title challenge while competing on all the other fronts.
Silva is 37 years old and, having handed him a one-year extension in the summer, Chelsea are quite right to leave another decision on his future until later in the season. Retirement could well be on the cards for the Brazilian.
However, the other three – Rudiger, Christensen and Azpilicueta – all arguably need clarity before January, given they would be able to openly discuss their options with other clubs once the mid-season transfer window opens.
Rudiger is one of the most in-form centre-backs in the world at the moment and is a real fan-favourite at Stamford Bridge.
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Christensen is an understated and quiet performer, but a player who has proven himself key to Tuchel’s project in west London.
Azpilicueta, meanwhile, is a certified club legend. He is captain, a leader and a versatile, consistent player across three separate positions. The Spaniard is only 32 years old and surely has many more years left in the tank.
According to Eurosport, Chelsea are considering their options, with Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, Juventus ’ Matthijs de Ligt and Pau Torres of Villarreal on their wishlist if Rudiger and Christensen move on next year.
While it is clearly wise to identify potential transfer targets, Chelsea should look to what they already have first.
Rudiger and Christensen are already completely familiar with Chelsea as a club, as well as Tuchel’s style of play and specific tactical demands. If Kounde and De Ligt, for example, were to come in next summer there are no guarantees they would take to the German’s system quickly.
Understandably, Chelsea do not want to be held to ransom by Rudiger, who is sure to demand a huge wage increase to stay amid interest from Manchester City, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
But equally, upping the German international’s wages could prove a more cost-effective way of backing Tuchel, considering Sevilla supremo Monchi’s reputation for driving a hard bargain.
Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia has often proven herself to be a shrewd negotiator and the next few months could prove crucial to the ongoing success of the Tuchel machine.