Professional sports is littered with examples of young players stepping up and taking advantage of opportunities granted by injuries to players ahead of them in the pecking order — Tom Brady in the NFL is the (greatest?) one that always comes to mind — and if there is a silver lining to Chelsea’s injury crisis, it’s precisely that it allows (or should allow) these kinds of opportunities.
Last night, Carney Chukwuemeka came within the width of the goalpost to making the most of the opportunity granted by Christian Pulisic’s unfortunate knee injury (the extent of which we don’t know yet). The 19-year-old was called into action 20 minutes into the game, and proceeded to impress for the remaining 70 — almost opening the scoring, even, when his shot deflected off a defender, past Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, but square onto the post. A few inches to the right, and it’s a first professional goal!
But the midfielder’s performance was about much more than just that one shot, showing great energy, quality, confidence, and absolute fearlessness while facing the defending champions. And he’s made no qualms about hoping to take advantage of such opportunities if and when they come his way. (Plus, he’s got a very lovely voice; could listen to him all day!)
“My heart skipped, literally, as I took the shot. I thought it was in but obviously it was not meant to be today. [...] Hopefully [that first goal] will come in the next few games.
“We worked really hard out of possession, limited their chances and on the ball we created chances ourselves and caused them some problems. So yeah, I think we did have the better first half but unfortunately we couldn’t find a goal.
“I feel like, because of how young I am, I don’t have anything to lose really; I can just express myself and I think that’s the same with the others, Omari and Lewis as well. Thought they both played really well. It’s a big opportunity for us to build on and try and break into the team because of the injuries.”
-Carney Chukwuemeka; source: Sky
And that’s exactly what we should be looking for as well, if we are indeed buying fully into the idea of a rebuild and long-term planning. Plus that’s what Potter’s supposed to be good at, right?
Giving more opportunities to players like Chukwuemeka — with all the trappings and travails of “playing the kids” — instead of, say, Aubameyang (another nothing-burger of an appearance for him), would also help resolve the strange dichotomy around the club right now when it comes to expectations, transfer spending, player development, and long-term planning.
Whatever our plan may be, let’s actually make it the plan. Nobody panics when things go according to plan.