As we enter the month of December, there is an abundance of reasons that we should be gleefully indulging ourselves in the festive spirit. After all, we’re top of the table and in rather exceptional form. Just in case you forgot, Chelsea have won their previous eight league games, including momentous victories against Everton, Mourinho’s United, Spurs and most recently, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
This period of vastly improved form and an infectious sense of confidence and optimism is especially delightful following the catastrophic events of our previous campaign — thankfully Leicester is poised to adopt the status of the worst title defense in Premier League history (ed. note: despite their hilarious 4-2 drubbing of City earlier today).
Diego Costa is back to his most potent best, terrorizing defenders with his brute strength and peerless tenacity. Similarly, Eden Hazard is a man reborn, and one could argue that the performances he has produced of late are superior to his stunning 2014-15 Premier League Player of the Year campaign. Conte’s unrelenting passion and refined expertise has overseen the revitalization of several players, most notably Pedro and Nemanja Matić. We’ve all became aware of Victor Moses’ remarkable rise to prominence, while the acquisitions of Kanté, Alonso, and David Luiz have proven to be shrewd signings. If that wasn’t enough excitement for you, Conte, despite a smaller than normal fixture list, has even shown promising signs in integrating some of our younger talents, including Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
While there is always the danger of over-indulgence, especially when the season remains to be comparatively young, given the Blues’ stellar form and compelling team spirit, we can begin to dream about this team’s expansive potential.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any potential causes for concern. The lack of cover for multiple key positions is a niggling fear that persists, especially when we look at the situation at left wing-back.
When Chelsea opted to spend £25 million on the acquisition of Marcos Alonso, formerly of Bolton and Sunderland, many questioned the rationale (or at least the value proposition) behind the transfer. The predisposition was that Marcos Alonso wasn’t up to the level needed to represent Chelsea Football Club, and that, at best, the club overpaid for a backup. Alonso has defied that narrative since the switch to the 3-4-3 with several excellent performances.
During his brief career as a Chelsea player, Alonso has shown that he’s competent in defence, able to consistently identify the danger and take up good positions. Of the regular starting eleven, only N’Golo Kanté has averaged more tackles and interceptions than Alonso. The attacking aspect of his play has been equally splendid, and arguably even better. The 25-year-old exhibits a tremendous crossing ability, providing Chelsea with penetration from wide positions — something that, rather annoyingly, the Blues have lacked in recent times. Although questions remain whether he has the pace necessary to be an exceptional wing-back, the Spaniard has established himself as an integral figure in Conte’s 3-4-3. However, he clearly needs to work on his goal-scoring celebrations. Some thoughtful attention is desperately required in this aspect.
One could argue that Alonso’s form should warrant an international call-up, but that’s an issue for another day. A more immediate concern is that if he were to sustain an injury (or simply get tired as the schedule gets busier), Chelsea would be thrust into a rather precarious position. Similar concerns exist elsewhere in the squad, too, but wing-backs are crucial to the efficient operation of the 3-4-3 and there are plenty of questions regarding the depth behind Alonso on the left flank.
Having spent the last three seasons at left back, César “Dave” Azpilicueta is the most natural deputy, but the Blues’ 2-1 defeat at the hands of a distinctly average West Ham United in the League Cup displayed his attacking deficiencies — and that was with Dave playing on his “natural” right side, even! Plus, Azpilicueta is currently an integral part of the three-man back line. Relocating him could negatively effect their operation as well.
Other options from the first-team could include Pedro or Willian, both of whom could provide attacking impetus. While they are both hard-working in defense as wingers, whether they could make the transition to wing-back as Moses has done on the right, is up for debate. Pedro did get brought up once by Conte as an option, though that was before the former Barcelona man turned in several excellent performances as an inside forward on the right flank
Conte lists Pedro, Branislav Ivanovic and Ola Aina as alternatives available for the wing-back roles. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 30, 2016
Ivanović has made a couple appearances now as a late-game defensive substitution for Moses, which could presumably leave Ola Aina as the left-sided option. We did see him play there against West Ham in the League Cup, as well as for the U23 development squad on a few occasions. Ola had impressed through pre-season as an attacking right back; however, he’s looked less comfortable on the left. Another youngster who could possibly step in is budding youth star Jay Dasilva — the 18-year-old has been impressing for several seasons now, including in Friday night’s 3-1 win for the U23s over Manchester United.
Another intriguing option could be young Robert Kenedy, whose loan to Watford has not worked out at all — he’s been back at Cobham training for a while (he can’t play for any other team until January) and doesn’t look to be returning to the Hornets. His brief and often injury-hit time at Watford had raised a few stray questions about his attitude, but he is unequivocally talented. Last season, a season tainted by controversy and mid-table mediocrity, Kenedy’s progression from summer unknown to a bright spark was particularly pleasing.
Advertised as a typical Brazilian wing-forward with great dribbling ability and a penchant for long-range shots, Kenedy’s physicality, passion, and determination was a welcome surprise. Does he possess the required traits necessary to operate at left wing-back, an incredibly difficult position from both a physical and tactical perspective? While Kenedy has played left back several times last season, his appearances came against a wretched Norwich City side (who were eventually relegated) and against Everton in the FA Cup, when Chelsea were distinctly second best. Having said that, he was arguably our best player in the 2-1 defeat to PSG in the Champions League. It’s not far-fetched to think that Conte could take those promising appearances and transform Kenedy into an excellent wing-back.
The last option, and given our history perhaps the most likely, is to make use of our financial power and look to acquire some much-needed depth in the January Transfer Window. While I thoroughly enjoy the excitement and the unpredictable nature of the transfer window, it is worth considering that January is often a difficult period to purchase players and most purchases made in the middle of the season come at notoriously inflated prices. While Chelsea have made several tremendous winter signings over the years — Anelka, David Luiz, Cahill, Matić come to mind — we might be better off looking at the options already available to us (let’s not forget young Baba Rahman on loan at Schalke 04 either!) to find adequate backup for Marcos Alonso.