Chelsea have 5 first team central defenders on their books – Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori. Each one of them has had at least a handful of brilliant games this season; and a couple of them have had long spells playing at a world class standard.
Despite the switch to a formation that uses an extra centre-back, competition at the back has been so strong that Tomori was forced out on loan to AC Milan in January to get some game time. Even in a new league with a new club, his evident quality has allowed him to step right into the first team of a side fighting for the title, earning rave reviews in the process.
On the evidence of this season then, Chelsea appear to be well-stocked in that area of the pitch. Given that 3 of those players are 26 or younger, they look well-provisioned for the future too.
So why is central defence considered a weak point of the team by so many fans? Why are we regularly told the club are targeting players to try and upgrade it?
The reason is that for all the good games we’ve seen from this talented group, we’ve seen plenty of bad ones too. The same Chelsea fans who have seen them excel at times this season have also seen them struggle horribly in the past, with various different managers and systems. No matter how well they play now, it’s hard to forget those black marks against their name. A striker can turn things round with a spree of goals; defenders have a much tougher time winning back faith and confidence from the fans in their abilities once they’ve been lost.
If it’s true that the club have been watching players like Niklas Sule and Dayot Upamecano, it seems that the decision makers at the club are having the same difficulty in believing that this group have put their worst behind them and that they can make their peak performances into their base levels. There’s certainly enough time left in this season for these players to convince, and it’s in the interest of those upstairs to believe they’ve turned the corner – they would save the transfer cost of a new player, and also avoid having to sell one of their existing options into what remains a depressed market at the very top level.
There was no doubt a couple of months ago that centre-back would be one of the primary concerns addressed in the transfer market this summer – it will be interesting to see whether the resurgence of players like Rudiger and Christensen since then has changed that, or whether the scars of past blunders will still count against them when the club take stock at the end of the season.