It should come as no surprise to see Chelsea top the table at this early stage in the season. The Blues have been one of the top performing outfits since Tuchel took the wheel, as emphasised by their Champions League triumph. Chelsea have also spent big bucks on big players since their 2019 transfer embargo; the £330 million spent is unmatched by any other club, but the big money signings aren’t necessarily the ones leading their Premier League title charge.
Romelu Lukaku became their record signing this summer, and despite starting accordingly, has failed to find the back of the net in his last six. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner haven’t quite taken off like many expected in their second season. Even last season’s player of the season, golden boy Mason Mount, has failed to shine this campaign. So who have been the standout Chelsea players this season?
The Unlikely Chelsea Players Leading Their Title Challenge
Edouard Mendy was recently omitted from the 30 man Ballon d’Or shortlist, and appears to have taken that personally. Originally signed as a smart, cost-effective upgrade on the faltering Kepa Arrizabalaga, few would have imagined Mendy to be in the discussion of best goalkeepers in the world. His performance against Brentford in particular, has elevated his status to another level, and deservingly so.
He made six saves as the Blues grinded out a 1-0 win, the most since he joined the club. Two saves of contrasting nature stood out in particular. The first, in the 86th minute, Mendy bravely came out to stop Pontus Jansson’s powerful effort with his face from close range.
The second, coming in injury time, denied Christian Norgaard’s acrobatic bicycle kick, brandishing his best salmon-leap to tip his effort onto the bar. With these two efforts, Mendy displayed the brash and the beauty of his shot-stopping ability.
Chelsea’s defence has been the epitome of the Thomas Tuchel era. They have kept 25 clean sheets in his 42 games in charge. The entire defence does their bit, but they play with the confidence of knowing that they have a dominant keeper behind them. Whilst his Man of the Match performance against Brentford has rightfully received plaudits, it was merely a demonstration of the performances he has displayed, and will continue to display, throughout the forthcoming season.
Christensen has become accustomed to being a useful squad member during his time at Stamford Bridge. He has consistently had to fight for his place, and at times looked close to the exit door. Now, his recent performances, and the trust ensued to him by his manager, mean he looks like being a solid member of Chelsea’s back-line for years to come.
He may have started to show his quality, but he’s not a guaranteed starter. Yes, he may have started six of eight Premier League games this season. But with Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva, he could easily see himself on the bench for any number of games. Yet his performances show that he can be relied on whenever called upon.
The Great Dane has an innate comfortability on the ball, suiting him for ‘Tuchel ball’. He enjoys making ball-progressing runs and playing forward, line-breaking passes, but probably not more than breaking up opposition attacks. At the weekend, he played between youngsters Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr, and all of a sudden was thrown into a leadership role.
That didn’t faze him though. He remained calm and organised, and led the young prodigies effectively. He’s not the Chelsea defender that grabs the most attention, but his role in the side warrants it.
Marcos Alonso and Ben Chilwell
Full-backs (and wing-backs) have enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alphonso Davies are bathing in far more attention that their predecessors received. It’s clear that the left wing-back role plays a vital part in Chelsea’s system, regardless of which name is on the team sheet.
Marcos Alonso and Ben Chilwell are healthily competing to be first choice under Tuchel, and it’s giving him a severe selection headache. Alonso started nine of the first 10 games, leaving the £50 million man lamenting his role. However, Chilwell has been trusted from the off in the last two games, and scored vital goals in both.
Both have proved the importance of their role in Tuchel’s 3-4-3/3-5-2 system. They have a licence to link up with the forwards, and as demonstrated by Chilwell’s match-winner vs Brentford, are expected to be in the box for crosses.
Combined they have three goals so far this season, and expect that number to rise. Both have an eye for goal that will prove vital when Lukaku and Havertz aren’t firing. Whilst either are at risk of becoming frustrated with sharing the role, they can, and should, embrace their rising value in the side.
Which Other Chelsea Players Can Steal the Headlines?
It would be remiss not to suggest Romelu Lukaku. We saw in his debut against Arsenal that he is unplayable when at his best. It may not quite be clicking in terms of goals at the moment, but his goalscoring record implies that will change sooner rather than later.
Another player enjoying a timely and popular resurgence of late is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. After a serious injury, and an unsuccessful loan spell, Loftus-Cheek has begun to show the form that saw him included in the 2018 World Cup squad. He started each of the last two league games, in a slightly deeper role, but that hasn’t stopped him thriving.
Speaking after the win over Brentford, where he was arguably the best outfield performer, Loftus-Cheek said: “I am enjoying all my time on the pitch…Anywhere I play, especially in the midfield, is just fantastic. I love being back at this club. I had full intentions of staying after my Fulham loan so I am really happy to play and help the team.”
So there you have it. Whilst we all thought Lukaku, Mount, Havertz and Kante would be the key players as Chelsea aim to bring the Premier League back to Stamford Bridge, that is far from the case. Instead the early performances of Mendy, Christensen and Alonso & Chilwell are the driving force behind Chelsea’s title push.
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