Chelsea defensive quartet could give Thomas Tuchel the blues as suitors line up and contracts run down

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Key duo: Chelsea run the risk of losing both Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger  (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Key duo: Chelsea run the risk of losing both Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

As things stand, Thomas Tuchel is set to see the bedrock of his Chelsea success walk away for nothing at the end of the season.

Defenders Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta are all out of contract next summer and can speak to interested clubs from January.

It is a remarkable position for a club of Chelsea’s stature to find themselves in — and in ordinary circumstances would be a major cause of disruption to a team with ambitions of winning the title.

Instead, that quartet continue to be the platform of Tuchel’s revolution, with Chelsea boasting the meanest defence in the top-flight, having conceded only four goals this season, two of which were penalties.

Their contribution to Chelsea’s three-point lead at the top of the table only underlines the need to tie down their futures, but it also highlights Tuchel’s ability to focus minds on a common cause, no matter the potential distractions. All four could start Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at Leicester.

Within Stamford Bridge there remains hope and a level of confidence that all four will stay, but with each in very different situations, they must be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Azpilicueta’s legendary status gives him a level of control over when he chooses to end his Chelsea reign. A one-year rolling contract is likely to be offered and he has shown little indication that he will seek a new challenge, particularly after being revitalised by Tuchel.

Silva has also been re-energised by his move to Chelsea so late in his career. He has been enthused by the challenge of the Premier League at the age of 37, and with his focus on playing for Brazil at next year’s World Cup, he is determined to continue to play at the highest level of club football.

A one-year extension was triggered last year and with Tuchel satisfied with his physical condition, another 12 months are expected to be offered, barring a serious injury.

The bigger concerns for Chelsea surround the futures of Christensen and Rudiger, two of the biggest beneficiaries of Tuchel’s reign.

A deal for Christensen was believed to have been as good as sealed at the start of the season, but a sticking point in negotiations has allowed the situation to drag on to the point where he is within weeks of being able to speak to suitors.

The Dane has attracted admirers from across Europe after his rapid rise during the second half of last season, with Manchester City among the clubs linked with a move. Cultured in possession, robust in the challenge, aerially sound and versatile, he would be among the ultimate free agents next summer.

Chelsea are determined to ensure it does not come to that, but the protracted negotiations have been an unwanted and unexpected distraction at a time when they have been working so hard to convince Rudiger that his future belongs at the Bridge.

Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta are expected to be offered new one-year deals (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta are expected to be offered new one-year deals (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Talks have gone on throughout the summer with the German, who went from exile under Frank Lampard to Champions League-winning linchpin for Tuchel. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are among those poised to try to lure him away from Chelsea.

Rudiger’s demands, which are believed to include an upping in wages to £190,000 a week, are proving a major stumbling block, and with such tempting options, it will be a battle to keep him.

Yet, during the international break, Rudiger said: “I am concentrating on the now. I owe that to the club, the coach and the team. I’m only focused on Chelsea. We’ll see what happens.”

As would be expected, Chelsea are contingency planning from within and outside the club. Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, who they missed out on in the summer, remains a target, possibly in January.

Trevoh Chalobah has been one of the stories of the season after convincing Tuchel into a rethink over loaning him out in the summer, with the academy graduate making 10 appearances already.

I am concentrating on the now. I owe that to the club, the coach and the team

Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger

Malang Sarr has been given opportunities, while Reece James could yet be told to play on the right of a central defensive three, having impressed in that role already under the German.

Crucially, Tuchel has been able to shuffle his rearguard with little impact on Chelsea’s march to the top of the table. That will be a source of encouragement to the club should they lose Rudiger or Christensen.

Tuchel’s success has been one of system over individuals, a set-up that allows academy graduates such as Chalobah or the ultra-experienced Silva to look equally at home in.

Christensen, Silva and Rudiger could well start in a back three at the King Power on Saturday as Chelsea look to stretch their lead to six points at the top.

How much longer they can rely on that trio is a question that hangs over the club with each passing week. But the fragility over their long-term status could not be more in contrast to what is being played out on the pitch.

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