As confirmed by the official Chelsea website, Roméo Lavia, Noni Madueke, and Lesley Ugochukwu have all returned to full training this week — and Chilly’s back in light training; though Enzo’s being “assessed” following his illness and potential injury — ahead of our visit to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Christmas Eve.
Between the three of them, they have a combined 329 minutes of action this season, spread across ten appearances. Madueke has been little more than an afterthought even when fit, Ugochukwu has been out for the last five games, and Lavia has yet to play at all since signing for big money in the summer.
But even as all three get closer to being fit again (which isn’t necessarily the same as returning to full training), their immediate involvement isn’t a guarantee. As we’ve seen with Christopher Nkunku even, Mauricio Pochettino isn’t one to throw a player right away into the thick of the action — and into the thick of the expectations and pressures — even if that might not go down too well with players and fans alike.
“We need to patient, we need to give time. We need to provide [Nkunku] the capacity to find his best form. I am not wanting more than to help, like the last game against Newcastle. To play from the beginning, I don’t know, it’s too early to see him start the game. In few weeks or next few games maybe we are going to consider him in the starting XI but not at the moment.
“[Madueke] is in a position where there is massive competition and he needs to compete and to increase his level. He was injured and now recovered and maybe will be involved in the next games.
“[Lavia] is in a similar position to Nkunku, you know? He arrived and never can make his debut. After nearly six months, maybe he will be involved with the team. He is doing well but he still needs time to get his best form. He’s desperate to make his debut and he’s pushing. But I want to make clear, with the players with a big period off, you know, out of the competition, they are desperate to be involved.
Pochettino went on a bit of a rant on this question; here’s some more of that:
“But they cannot make the mistake. They can be involved – but in which way? In which form? At what level? It’s easy to say, ‘I want to play’, but we are competing. This is a serious competition. After six months, like Nkunku, like [Lavia], they need to understand they need to be involved, to train really, really hard every day. They need to be an impact every time they go to the pitch. It’s not to say we are in a pre-season game and they go to the pitch and we say, ‘if they perform well, if they don’t perform well, then no problem’, because six months.
“For many things it is an excuse, for many things, ‘I want to play. If I don’t have time I can’t perform, but in the same time, to play with that’. You need to understand, the players need to understand that that is not a charity thing; that we are going to play football, we need to win. Sometimes the professionals feel so disappointed because they want to play. It’s difficult to understand. The environment of the player, also, they say they are disappointed because Nkunku didn’t play against Sheffield United.
“[We] are not talking about names, or suppose he is going to be better than one [player]. We are talking about today, who is ready to compete and provide what we are expecting for the team.”
-Mauricio Pochettino; source: Football.London
That said, with the busy festive period coming up, including three games in seven days between Christmas and New Year’s, a bit of squad rotation will surely be necessary. We’re going to have to manage minutes in a smart way, and, given that our injury list appears to be shrinking a bit overall, utilize all of our options as best as possible.