One could argue that the only way was up after a near-historically bad defensive record last season, but Chelsea’s defensive improvement this season has been significant, and even before Thomas Tuchel’s appointment (though to a lesser degree before then).
Under Lampard, that was largely chalked up to a change in personnel, with Éduard Mendy taking over from Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal and Thiago Silva joining on a free transfer and forming a formidable partnership with Kurt Zouma. The rather impressive improvement under Tuchel has seen Chelsea switch to a back-three, which has helped the likes Antonio Rüdiger and César Azpilicueta play some of their best football in ages. Thiago Silva was initially at the center of that line as well, but his injury has given Andreas Christensen an opportunity to play once again, and he’s grabbed that opportunity with both hands, playing perhaps his best football in his Chelsea career.
The question for Tuchel thus becomes, if and when Thiago Silva returns, who gets to play?
While yet another setback suffered last week by the veteran has put off that decision for at least one more game, the weekend’s scoreless draw at Leeds United, ahead of that game, Tuchel briefly addressed the situation by claiming that he could play both defenders at the same time.
“They can play together for sure. I’m very sure that Christensen can play on both sides of the back three and they can also play together as centre-backs in a back four as well.
“The position in the middle is the best for Thiago but Andreas is also on the same level and he can also play on both sides so there is no problem.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Chelsea FC
Christensen and Silva have only played together once all season, in the 3-3 draw against West Brom way back at the start of the season, which was by far Silva’s worst game ever for the club. That was a back-four. Christensen has also played the right side of a back-three once under Tuchel, when Kurt Zouma was surprisingly picked to be the central player (and even more surprisingly, Emerson was the left-center back). Fortunately, we were only playing second division Barnsley, so the makeshift solution that is unlikely to be ever seen again was able to keep a clean sheet.
Those two games don’t necessarily contradict and rule out Tuchel’s claim. The sample size is too small. But if Christensen plays either side of Silva, we’d have to rest either Rüdiger or Azpilicueta, neither of which seems likely beyond a one-off game or two. And Kurt Zouma has done well as Rüdiger’s deputy, while we’re all hoping that Reece James gets a run-out for Azpilicueta at some point. The right-center back role seems well-suited to the youngster’s skillset.
Eventually, Thiago Silva will be back. (Hopefully!) Wonder what Tuchel will do...