Premier League • England

Tuchel touts unthinkable selection change; cuts Chelsea experiment short

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel with Mason Mount and Reece James

Thomas Tuchel left the door ajar to a Chelsea selection change that would’ve been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, and cut short a Reece James experiment.

Chelsea No 1 Edouard Mendy had arguably been the Premier League’s best performing goalkeeper this season. The Senegal international has established himself as the club’s undisputed first choice with the gloves, thereby cementing Kepa Arrizabalaga to rare outings in the cups.

However, Mendy was arguably at fault for two goals when Chelsea suffered a surprise defeat to West Ham last week.

Kepa was selected to start against Zenit St Petersburg in midweek as Tuchel rung the changes. Grasping his chance with both hands, the Spaniard impressed despite a 3-3 draw ensuring the group lead was ceded to Juventus.

Now, speaking in his Friday press conference (via Football London) ahead of their clash with Leeds, Tuchel was asked about the prospect of Kepa pushing for a league appearance. While Tuchel stopped short of promising him a start, his answer suggested he would have no qualms making the decision if he felt inclined.

“He’s always pushing,” Tuchel said of Kepa. “He really is an example of sportsmanship. I have nothing but praise for him.

“He did everything that he is able to do to produce a performance like this [against Zenit St Petersburg], every day he is an unbelievable spirit.

“He does what it takes to be on his highest level and this is how all team sports should be at Chelsea.”

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Chelsea’s recent dip in form has coincided with a spate of injuries. Providing an update on his squad, Tuchel confirmed four names will miss out against Leeds. However, Jorginho is expected to start and push through the pain barrier after carrying a back complaint.

“Trevoh Chalobah is still out, Kovacic is obviously out, N’Golo Kante out for tomorrow and Ben Chilwell too,” said Tuchel.

“Jorginho did the last two training sessions and will do what he did the last game, play through pain.”

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho 2021

Kante is arguably the biggest miss facing Tuchel at present. His comments on the midfield dynamo suggested he shares the same view.

“You cannot find a second N’Golo so of course we are worried,” he added. “It is likely too long a break again and we hope that he comes back to team training on Tuesday.”

Chelsea experiment a one-off – Tuchel

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was due to start against Zenit, though an injury in the warm-up laid waste to that plan.

Reece James responded to the call to arms and duly played in midfield. However, Tuchel suggested that experiment was just a one-off.

“Reece will start as a wing-back. There is no need tomorrow to try these different things.”

Tuchel will stare down Chelsea challenges

Tuchel was then asked if the club’s recent blip was his most challenging time at the club to date. Chelsea have won just one of their last four matches across all competitions.

“No,” said Tuchel. “For me it is a very short period where we are a bit concerned or not happy with how we approach things and feel we can do better. For me it is not a long period.

“It started at Watford but even there we had a lot of changes. I was aware that maybe things looked not so precise, smooth or well-organised. But I was surprised were were not ready physically or mentally to play a league match.

“We played very good in the first half against West Ham and had a good reaction after the equaliser. But I repeat, it is the four times we gave away the lead, it is very unusual. I don’t want to make it bigger than it is but I don’t want to look away.”

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