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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Chelsea at Arsenal preseason predicted XI: Never mind, still 3-4-3

 Chelsea is now heading into its third preseason game of the summer (fourth if you want to count the intrasquad game that took the place of ...

 Chelsea is now heading into its third preseason game of the summer (fourth if you want to count the intrasquad game that took the place of the cancelled friendly). The Blues won against Bournemouth in their first televised preseason contest last time out, but they had to do it the hard way and come from behind. They got carved open quite easily, though that shouldn’t be a worry comparing the team that played to the team that would be playing in competitive matches. Few players made a case to displace any of the current starters. Chelsea goes into another preseason match, this one meaning a little more to the Blues, who had Arsenal do the double over them in the 2020/21 season. The game is also being played for charity as a part of The Mind Series. 

Thomas Tuchel has to start getting his team ready for the new season, but he’s still without a lot of his 2020/21 starters. Therefore, what does his starting XI look like against the Gunners?

Kepa Arrizabalaga (No. 1) Goalkeeper

Kepa Arrizabalaga’s distribution left a lot to be desired in the friendly against Bournemouth, though it’s still preseason and everyone is still rusty. Arrizabalaga is still firmly second choice, even with the arrival of Marcus Bettinelli. He likely gets a nod in this game again to continue to build his fitness. He didn’t concede against Bournemouth, albeit playing only 45 minutes; he was good overall.

Dujon Sterling (NA) Right centerback

Dujon Sterling played relatively well at right centerback against the Cherries. Tuchel seems really interested in training someone to play Cesar Azpilicueta’s position and that’s fair because he has deputies in every other centerback spot except right centerback. The German manager doesn’t seem particularly satisfied with Reece James at centerback. Sterling seems to have impressed Tuchel so far, and he could play a role on the right for Chelsea this coming season. If he stays, he’d have a lot of competition in the right wingback role, but he could see his main minutes at right centerback.

Kurt Zouma (No. 15) Centerback

It’s been a difficult few days for Kurt Zouma. Returning from holiday and barely settling down only to be hearing about a swap deal involving himself through the media. It’s important to note that Zouma has not played outside England since he joined Chelsea in 2013. He has spent seven years living in England and he has a family there. Zouma has his family to think about more than himself and it makes sense for him to want to remain in London. Selfish fans are irritated at Zouma because he’s “holding up the Jules Kounde deal,” but it’s not up to the Frenchman to make transfer deals work out. He can only do what’s best for himself and his family.

Malang Sarr (NA) Left centerback

Malang Sarr has played every preseason game so far and he has looked OK. He made some key interceptions against Bournemouth and was generally and positively busy. Sarr is looking more and more like he’ll stay for the Chelsea season. He may not get much playing time, but he’s left footedness means that he’d likely deputize Antonio Rudiger in that left centerback spot. Left-footed centerbacks are rare and that probably increases Sarr’s stock in Tuchel’s eyes.

Callum Hudson-Odoi (No. 20) Right wingback

Callum Hudson-Odoi played well against Bournemouth and has generally looked sharp during preseason. He linked up well with Hakim Ziyech and there’s a lot of things to be excited about watching him. The Englishman needs minutes for fitness, especially as he’s not played football in a while. Hudson-Odoi has had a rough career so far including a muscular injury that kept him out for a while. He’s not really hit top form since then and hasn’t been able to lock down a consistent starting spot under the last two managers. The closest he came to doing that was under the current manager, so there’s hope for him still.

Mateo Kovacic (No. 17) Central midfielder

Mateo Kovacic will need the minutes, especially with the Super Cup looming. Kovacic was one of the best performers under Tuchel when he first arrived. His injury saw him get limited minutes toward the end of the season, including an appearance in the Champions League final. Kovacic came under senseless criticism from a fanbase that allowed recency bias affect their judgement. Tuchel clearly rates the Croatian very highly and it’s easy to see why.

Danny Drinkwater (NA) Central midfielder

As difficult a pill as it may be to swallow, Danny Drinkwater played well against Bournemouth. While it’s a friendly and it’s no indication of how he’ll play in competitive games, his performances in friendlies are the only arguments he has in order to feature in the Chelsea squad for the coming season. Showings like the one at Bournemouth would help him make that case.

Marcos Alonso (No. 3) Left wingback

Marcos Alonso played well against Bournemouth and it was exciting to see him wear the captain’s armband. Alonso has had a turbulent career, which may feel a bit weird to say about someone who has won the Premier League and the Champions League since joining the Blues in 2016. Alonso also played only 45 minutes against Bournemouth, but he likely plays again for fitness purposes.

Hakim Ziyech (No. 22) Right winger

Hakim Ziyech created two clear cut chances that weren’t converted by Tammy Abraham last time out. He has looked sharper this preseason, scoring a hat-trick against Championship side Peterborough FC in one half. The competition for spots in Tuchel’s 3-4-3 is fierce and you can only make a case when you’re given opportunities to play. Ziyech has done just that. Many seem ready to do away with the Moroccan despite him being the most, if not only, creative player at the club.

Tammy Abraham (No. 9) Center forward

Abraham got into very good goal scoring positions against Bournemouth, though he doesn’t offer the versatility of a Timo Werner, but he may not need to. Chelsea needs a striker who can occupy the central areas of the final third and run in behind the back line. It is with strikers like this that players like Ziyech thrive. Ziyech often looks to create goal scoring opportunities whenever he’s on the ball, so players running in behind like Abraham and Werner gives a Ziyech (or any other creator) options. Abraham missed three chances—including one very good one that may have resulted in a goal had he gotten his header right. He may get another chance to convince Tuchel that he can be the man for the job, if it’s still possible to convince him.

Christian Pulisic (No. 10) Left winger

Christian Pulisic played against Peterborough and played well. He also played half the match against Bournemouth in what would go a long way in building his match fitness. He looked lethal and electric last season at several points when he played, but competition for places means you don’t get the chance to play through bad form. He was a standout against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal last season, he’d do well to hit those heights again whenever he manages to get onto the pitch.

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