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Fortunes Of Zouma And Christensen Making Tuchel’s Centre Back Dilemma Simple

Despite the sale of Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan earlier this month for £25million, Chelsea are well stocked with centre backs heading into the 2021/22 season.

Fortunes Of Zouma And Christensen Making Tuchel’s Centre Back Dilemma Simple

Contract issues aside, Tuchel has plenty of depth in the position. Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Kurt Zouma are the recognised centre backs, while Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James have both featured in a central role for Thomas Tuchel.

All four of Tuchel’s central defenders are currently away with their country, either at EURO 2020 or in Thiago Silva’s case, at the Copa America. Three of the quartet are playing regular minutes, but one is not.

The one who isn’t is Kurt Zouma, who has yet to start a game for France. In fact, he has yet to play a minute as Raphael Varane and PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe have been the first choice pairing for Didier Deschamps’ tournament favourites.

Having been a regular under Frank Lampard, Zouma has minutes for both club and country have been a bit harder to come by since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel in late January – seven Premier League starts after January 16, compared to 15 before it with 13 of those coming in consecutive games.

Zouma has made 150 appearances in his Chelsea career to date but when he returns to Stamford Bridge for pre-season training, he could well find himself as fifth choice to play at centre back.

Rudiger has shown a fine resurgence in form under Tuchel, Thiago Silva is still a top class defender at 36, while Azpilicueta had led the team tremendously from the third centre back role.

James was selected for the FA Cup final as a third centre back, while Christensen was Tuchel’s chosen replacement when Silva picked up a thigh injury early in his reign. The Dane also replaced the Brazilian when he limped off in the Champions League final.

Christensen has been in fine form in 2021. In fact, of 16 games started under Tuchel for the Dane, not one defeat arose from them.

He’s carried that form over into the Euros as well, where the 25-year-old has been playing in a back four for his country rather than the five at club level. Christensen has often looked exposed in a four but far more comfortable in a five.

Christensen cannot be judged on Denmark’s opening game of EURO 2020 against Finland in Copenhagen after Christian Eriksen suffered a terrifying cardiac arrest on the pitch but in the two games since, he has cut a very composed figure.

He also bagged a goal for his efforts in the sensational win for the Danes over Russia to qualify for the last 16, thumping home a long-range piledriver. He hasn’t scored in some 127 games for his club.

For Zouma, a back-up role was always expected for his country this summer, as he was in the qualifying stages but after the end to the campaign where regular minutes were hard to come by, plus seeing Christensen flourish, must be a concern.

Whether Tuchel sticks with the back five that served him so well last season or if he will revert to a four, isn’t known. With the plethora of midfielders at Cobham, four looks to be the way to go unless a few sales are made by the head coach.

Christensen is also out of contract at the end of next season and, if he continues his rate of progress, the Blues will want to get him tied down to a new, long-term deal to keep him at the club he has been at for the past nine years. Antonio Rudiger’s contract needs sorting out as well and he’ll be wanting at least three more years in west London if he stays.

For Zouma though, the future perhaps is not as clear if he falls further down the pecking order in the defensive ranks.

 

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