The Importance Of ‘Untouchable’ Players At Chelsea FC

When you look at the Chelsea team of 2021, there is a very short list of players who are deemed as ‘Untouchables’ and have earned the right to start every single week. ‘Untouchables’ is a term seemingly coined by Jose Mourinho to describe players who are consistent and are permanently on the team sheet despite the opposition. In 2006, Mourinho listed his Chelsea Untouchables as Essien, Makelele, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Petr Cech. The names listed by Mourinho have a common theme. Every single player listed was willing to fight for the badge, possessed leadership qualities and knew their role to perfection.

Mourinho is a manager who needs players he trusts and especially during his time at Chelsea and Manchester United, he was not worried about criticising underperforming players and shaming them publicly. In this sense, Thomas Tuchel is the polar opposite of Jose Mourinho. It is very clear that Tuchel sees team cohesion and morale as key parts of a title winning side, which explains his recurring theme of never blaming defeats solely on one player. Despite this, a solid ‘spine’ is what many feel is lacking within this Chelsea team as of this moment and to achieve the task of implementing this spine into the Chelsea starting eleven, Tuchel would need to reserve spaces in the team for his most trusted players. This would undoubtedly upset some fringe members of the squad, which on the positive side could possibly bring about a much needed clearance of dead wood.

The only ‘Untouchables’ present in Tuchel’s Chelsea squad are Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount. This is worrying for a number of reasons, the lack of permanent starters present in the squad causes a lot of tinkering to be done from game to game. Tuchel is notorious for his changing of formation and personnel depending on the opposition, but in the Premier League there has to be some familiarity within the starting eleven.

Mendy is a suitable option for the calibre of goalkeeper needed to challenge for titles and his winning mentality and class has been shown countless times this season. Azpilicueta is still a top right back on his day and one of the most consistent full backs in recent Premier League history, however his decreasing pace is a worrying sign and his performances have somewhat become inconsistent throughout the past season. Tuchel has made it clear several times that he feels the captain of the club should be a regular starter within the team, something Frank Lampard disagreed with. Mason Mount in his breakout year has fought for the badge when others wouldn’t and backed up his performances with an increase in goals and assists. Mason has also shown up in some of our biggest games this season, scoring a fantastic goal against Liverpool in a 1-0 win at Anfield and also securing Chelsea’s place in a Champions League final with a goal against Real Madrid. Showing up in big games is essential to be regarded as an ‘Untouchable’ for Chelsea FC and the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard lived for the big occasions.

The likes of Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount unfortunately dwindle in comparison to the ‘Untouchables’ of 2006 but players of that nature are hard to come by these days. Players with bundles of skill and flair that are able to compete in the Premier League are easy to come by, but players willing to fight for the badge week in, week out and players that can perform on the biggest stage frequently are a rare breed in todays market.

Looking at the 2006/07 season of the Premier League, Lampard featured in 37 games, John Terry featured in 28 games, Carvalho featured in 31 games and Drogba featured in 36 games. A poor run of form at the end of the season prevented Chelsea from lifting the Premier League trophy for a third consecutive year. However, it is clear to see that a team with permanent starters brings familiarity and solidarity to everyone else on the pitch. Patterns of play become natural and consistency becomes effortless, every player on the pitch knows their roles and this helps to secure the defence, midfield and attack. Permanent starters set the foundations for the whole team to succeed. Reliable players doing reliable jobs to set the whole team up for success. Of course, every player listed as an ‘Untouchable’ by Jose was exceptional but these permanent starters do not have to be phenomenal footballers to become an ‘Untouchable’.

In an era where the highly sought after signings cost upwards of £50m and fans only want the best of the best to join their clubs, it is often tough to identify how a winning team with a winning mentality is established. Apart from the odd occasion in football history, not many exceptional teams are filled with eleven exceptional players. Using our Champions League final starting eleven from 2012, we can easily see that some of the players involved on that day were nowhere near world class. Bosingwa and Mikel both started the Champions League final in Munich and had been main stays in the team for the duration of the competition. Mikel played in 9 games and Bosingwa played in 11 throughout the 2011/12 campiagn. Neither of these two players were regarded as world class for their positions and sometimes you don’t have to be to succeed. There is no doubt that Bosingwa and Mikel provided much needed experience and calmness to players like Ryan Bertrand, who was featuring in his first ever European game for the Blues.

This summer will be pivotal in Tuchel deciding his ‘Untouchables’ during his reign at Stamford Bridge. As with every transfer window looming, Chelsea have obviously been linked with anyone and everyone. Transfers at this point for Chelsea FC are impossible to predict and there is still so much to play for this season but there is some big decisions for Thomas Tuchel to make throughout pre-season and the beckoning summer transfer window. Establishing his set of ‘Untouchables’ , in my eyes signifies that Tuchel accepts the fact that permanent starters are essential to a Premier League winning side and evidently showcases his ever-growing intention to win trophies at Chelsea.

Written by Frankie

Christensen: From the next John Terry to defensive liability

When Chelsea’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ himself picked a successor to his crown as the club’s leading centre half, fans everywhere sat up and took notice. So, when John Terry described Andreas Christensen as a ‘top footballer’ and ‘one of the future men for Chelsea’ back in 2014, many would have expected him to have nailed down a starting slot long before now. Terry even went so far as to say that the Danish international should be ‘hungry to take my place in the team’, but that is something that has never truly materialised. After dropping to fourth choice centre back at the club and following his latest high-profile error against Aston Villa, it is time to question whether Christensen has a future at Stamford Bridge. 

With Chelsea 1-0 up against Aston Villa at the break and looking for a win to nudge them out of a mini crisis, an early goal conceded in controversial fashion was hardly what Frank Lampard was looking for. Yet with Aston Villa attacking on the break, Christensen went down following contact from nimble playmaker Jack Grealish as both contested possession of the ball. Play continuedbut whilst the much slighter Grealish got up and carried on, the 6-foot 1-inch-tall centre back remained on the floor. Half a minute later Villa had scored as a stretched Chelsea defence did not have the numbers to commit a man to mark Anwar El Ghazi and prevent him from freely knocking in an equaliser at the back post. The match finished 1-1 and to make matters even worse for Christensen, his hero rather bluntly put him down on social media following the final whistle. Replying to a comment under his latest Instagram post accusing Aston Villa of poor sportsmanship in continuing when the opposition were a man down, Terry (currently assistant manager at Villa) stated that his former teammate should have ‘got up’. Having already been sent off for a rugby-tackle style foul on Sadio Mane at Stamford Bridge earlier this season – costing his side in a 2-0 loss to the reigning Champions – the Dane is hardly inspiring confidence in Chelsea fans.  

None of this was in the script when Antonio Conte integrated Christensen into a three-man defence in the 2017/18 season. Coming off the back of an excellent couple of seasons on loan in the Bundesliga at Borussia Monchengladbach, a then 21-year-old Christensen finally got his chance in a Chelsea shirt, just as Terry was leaving Stamford Bridge following his move to Aston Villa. 23 starts in all competitions gave fans a reason to be excited in the youngster, who was one of a few bright sparks in an otherwise horrible campaign as Conte left the London side in a mess. Quickly it became apparent that Christensen would become the side’s new David Luiz figure, as the fiery Brazilian was shunned from the side following a falling out with the manager. The Dane’s distribution was likened to Luiz, and he stood out as one of the finest passers of the ball in the league, with a 93.4% passing accuracy across the season. However, playing as part of a defensive three covered up a multitude of failing in the Dane’s game which were exposed when new coach Maurizio Sarri implemented a back four.

Christensen has always stood out for his excellent ability with the ball at his feet, Photo Credit: Bleacher Report

The evidence was perhaps there all along that Christensen was not the centre back Chelsea fans always hoped he could be. His break-out season’s tackle success rate of 53.3% was low but not disastrous, as Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill were there to help him out. However, Sarri did not have faith in the former prodigy to lead his defence and so Christensen made only 6 starts in the Premier League that season, having to be content with being a Europa League regular. His tackling ability appeared to decline further, with only 42% of his attempted challenges being successful in the league that season. For context, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva has completed 64% of his challenges so far this season. Christensen was rapidly building a reputation for being a wonderful passer capable of playing out from the back, but a player who was far too light-weight and error-prone to be successful in the Premier League.

Low on confidence, a season of being constantly thrown in and dragged out of Lampard’s side in 2019/20 certainly was not what Christensen would have hoped for. Whilst his fellow academy graduates Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham made themselves indispensable to the side with consistently excellent performances, Christensen became a scapegoat for one of the worst Chelsea defences in the Premier League era, as the side concede 54 goals (over three times more than the vintage of the 2004/05 season). Starting 21 league games, he would be dropped for between one and five games on five separate occasions. This lack of consistent game time seemed to spell the end for Christensen.

The signing of Thiago Silva, ‘O Monstro’ on a free from PSG this summer has transformed the Chelsea defence into a different beast. With Kurt Zouma looking back to his rejuvenated best and performing at scarcely believable levels in the air, game time is hard to come by for the rest of the Blue’s centre backs. Despite being left out of the match day squad for 4 consecutive league games, Rudiger seems to be back in favour with Lampard and currently sits above Christensen in the pecking order, which could result in him starting a fair few games across the season as the 36-year-old Silva’s game time is closely managed. The delayed European Championships are due to commence this summer and Christensen will be desperate for a run of game time to stake his claim as a starter at the tournament. However, such an opportunity seems unlikely to arise at Chelsea, so could we be seeing the last of the Dane at Stamford Bridge?

Much has been made of Christensen’s seeming lack of physicality, often leading to him being labelled as ‘light weight’, Photo Credit: Football 365

A tidy, ball-playing centre back will always draw attention on the continent, so it is no surprise to see Christensen linked with top 6 sides in Spain, France and Germany (via the Athletic). It will be a great shame to see such a talented academy graduate depart but it could be for the best. Fikayo Tomori is already frustrated with his lack of first team football and Marc Guehi is developing at a frightening rate on loan at Swansea this season and will surely soon be knocking on Lampard’s door asking for regular game time.

Ultimately Christensen’s lack of physicality and seeming inability to mark big, physical forwards in the ilk of Michail Antonio and Christian Benteke, has been his undoing. For every excellent performance against the likes of Manchester City at home last season (playing without a recognised centre forward, allowing Christensen to excel against physically weaker opponents), there was a horror show (see West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and more). His Chelsea story began when John Terry’s came to an end and perhaps fans were too keen to see their captain’s boots filled immediately and the pressure got to a young Christensen, but for whatever reason he has been unable to fulfil his massive potential. Maybe one day we will see him excelling at one of Europe’s biggest sides, but for now it is difficult to see a future in which Christensen remains at his boyhood club.

Written by Danny New

Chelsea Interview with Mark Worrall

Jerry Mancini spoke to Mark Worrall, author and publisher for Chelsea FC related books. He has written books such as Chelsea Here Chelsea There, ‘Blue Murder: ‘Chelsea Till I Die’ and Chelsea Football Fanzine.

How would you rate Frank Lampard’s first season with Chelsea? Additionally, why is Lampard struggling to coach defense?

“A very solid 7/10 for Super Frank. [A] victory in the FA Cup Final would have pushed it to 9/10. Achieving [a] top four [position in the English Premier League] in spite of having lost Eden Hazard and not being able to sign new players was commendable.

“Defence issues were there from day one. Frank permed every option available to him as far as centre-back pairings and 3 at the back was concerned without ever achieving consistency. Clearly there is the need for a quality centre-back to be added to the squad and a left-back. Goalkeeper has also been an issue which has led to a crisis of confidence on several occasions. I’d like to believe it’s a personnel issue rather than a coaching issue…. We will find out next season, if the squad is improved in this area.”

Willian left Chelsea after seven seasons to join Arsenal. Did you feel this was the right move by Chelsea and the player? Also, how do you view his time with the Blues?

“I love the bones of Willian. He hates Tottenham of course! Joking aside, every Chelsea manager he played for rated him and there were always offers coming in for him. I think he found it hard to be constantly in Eden Hazard’s shadow, but his contribution and work rate were top notch.

“The move to Arsenal, is proof that at 32 he’s not a spent force. Personally, I don’t like to see Blues players move to rival Premier League clubs, especially London clubs. Was it the right move for Chelsea? I think so. I’m not sure he would have got much in the way of game time next season the way the team looks to be shaping up with new players.”

Chelsea shocked many with the signing of Timo Werner. How do you see the German fitting into Lampard’s plans this upcoming season?

“If [he is] playing through the middle, [Timo] Werner will hopefully be the man to consistently convert the chances that Chelsea create down the flanks. There is flexibility though and he can play left-wing with Tammy [Abraham] as centre forward. Either way, he’s going to be one of the first names on Super Frank’s team-sheet and if he stays injury-free then a 50+ appearances season beckons.”

Which area should Chelsea focus on the most in this transfer market window?

“Goalkeeper needs to be addressed and one centre-back – I actually think left-back is less of an issue for now while Kai Havertz is a luxury signing. It looks like [Roman] Abramovich is motivated to spend, spend, spend and so it’s a question of finding the right players and getting the deals over the line.”

Chelsea have been very active in the transfer market. They have acquired Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and look close to signing Ben Chillwell and Kai Havertz. Which players do you believe will not benefit from all these players joining Chelsea?

“There’s quite a list, but avoiding the obvious ones who will be sold or loaned I do wonder how much game-time the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy and perhaps also [Christian] Pulisic and [Mason] Mount will get over the course of the season.”

Do you think César Azpilicueta is the best captain in Chelsea’s history?

“Short answer, no. César Azpilicueta is a terrific ambassador for the Club and a loyal, dependable and versatile defender… but he is nowhere near John Terry in terms of providing do-or-die leadership on the pitch.”

What has been the downfall to Kepa’s career and do you see the Spaniard in goal next season for Chelsea?

“Kepa’s downfall started with his player-manager escapade at Wembley in the 2019 League Cup Final v Man City. He then allowed personal issues to cloud his game (girlfriend trouble). Having a shaky defence in front of him hasn’t given him confidence and that’s a two-way street. Being dropped for the latter stages of the 2019/20 campaign spoke volumes about how much the manager trusts him – he doesn’t

“Without the benefit of a decent pre-season to see if he can be trusted with a better defence in front of him (assuming new signings) I don’t see how Lampard can re-evaluate him and, on that basis, I can’t see him getting a game. That said, if Chelsea don’t sign another goalkeeper and something happens to Willy Caballero there may be no option other than to play him.”

Lastly, how do you see Chelsea finishing this season and do you think they will progress this upcoming year?

“Progress will largely depend on fixing the defensive problems that plagued Chelsea in 2019/20. Do that, and with exciting new attacking talent already on board and the promise of more to come then the Blues could give Liverpool and Man City a run for their money in the Premier League.

“Realistically, going one better and winning the FA Cup this time around looks like the best option of silverware with the League Cup as a back-up… or why not win both? The new season is all about finding the right formula team wise, do that and we should be seriously challenging for top honours including the Champions League within the next couple of years.”