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Ben Chilwell injury: What next as Chelsea consider Lucas Digne transfer, Saul Niguez and loan recalls

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Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea revival has been thrown into disarray after confirmation Ben Chilwell will miss the rest of the season.

The England international will undergo surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament after club doctors determined rest and recuperation would not be enough to resolve the issue.

It has left Tuchel weighing up his options as to how to cover the left-back spot in the short-term, with a loan move for Everton’s Lucas Digne one option.

An alternative would be to use Saul Niguez in that role as cover for Marcos Alonso, in what would be a high stakes move.

Saul has struggled to come to terms with English football since his deadline day loan move from Atletico Madrid – and part of the lure of joining Chelsea was the promise that he would be allowed to play in his preferred position in central midfield.

Alonso has been impressive under Tuchel – but Chelsea have felt the effects of Chilwell’s absence since he limped out of their 4-0 win against Juventus last month.

Since then they have endured an alarming mid-season slump, which has seen them drop from first to third in the Premier League where they now trail leaders and champions Manchester City by six points.

Chilwell had been in outstanding form before his injury – scoring four goals for club and country Chelsea undefeated in all nine of the games he started. They have won only three of eight since his injury.

Tuchel had held off making a decision about bringing in short-term cover in January in the hope the 25-year-old would return to action in the New Year.

Chelsea’s medical team had been encouraged by his initial reaction to treatment, but his rehabilitation had been disrupted by Covid.

The timing of the confirmation that he will require surgery at least means Tuchel and technical director Petr Cech can try to find suitable cover during the January window.

Digne has emerged as a possibility after falling out of favour at Everton. They could also look into the potential recall of Emerson Palmieri from his loan spell at Lyon.

Ian Maatsen is out on loan too, at Coventry, while Chelsea have been linked with a longer-term move AC Milan defender Theo Hernandez.

Tuchel was already sufficiently concerned about his squad’s ability to cope with an intensive fixture schedule and the effects of injury and Covid before a decision about Chilwell was made.

He was downbeat after the Boxing Day victory against Aston Villa – admitting it was soon to consider the result a turning point due to the uncertainty surrounding his squad.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

His hopes of keeping pace with a rampant Manchester City were reliant on Chilwell’s return in the New Year.

Tuchel spoke this month about the difficulty in bringing cover in January, saying: “Having a look at players and it being possible to get them in winter, there’s a big gap between these two situations. The best option would be that Ben continues his positive evaluation.”

Ahead of Chelsea’s game on Wednesday, Tuchel once again revealed his concern about the strains being placed on his players, who are still competing in all fronts and will play in the Club World Cup in February.

“We love the schedule and we love to play through winter and be the only league, but we need also protection from the league,” he said. “I can absolutely not understand, zero per cent, why we are the only league who plays through the winter and are the only league with three substitutes, in a period of heavy, heavy Covid threat.

“And in a period of heavy Covid situations, a lot of games are postponed. Some games are postponed, some are not, and I’m heavily concerned and I don’t understand why we have only three substitutes, that makes absolutely no sense. But it’s the situation.

 (PA)
(PA)

“So that is worrying that we struggle, we have injuries, and players who suffered from Covid. And we have no time to build them up, so it’s normal because you would be stupid to do training if you can do it without training and a certain physical level, because it’s very, very demanding what we do here.

But, again, we love the schedule, we love what we do here and we love the race for every title. And we love to compete in Carabao Cup, Champions League and Premier League.

“This is absolutely no problem, but we would like to have our squad and a normal situation of injuries.”

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