Silva return, Havertz dropped: Three Chelsea changes Graham Potter must make vs Manchester United
Chelsea’s winning run under Graham Potter came to an end on Wednesday night against Brentford. The Blues will hope to start another when they welcome Manchester United – who will be without Cristiano Ronaldo – to Stamford Bridge tomorrow evening. After a difficult start to the season, United have improved under Erik Ten Hag.
And in midweek, they recorded an impressive victory over Tottenham Hotspur. However, the victory has been overshadowed by the antics of Ronaldo , who reportedly refused to come off the bench and then left the Old Trafford pitch before the whistle was blown. Ronaldo has been punished and dropped from the squad to face Chelsea . Given how Ten Hag’s side have played without the Portuguese superstar this term, that is something of a blessing for the Reds. But it does eliminate the need for Potter and his staff to plan for the threat of the 37-year- old.
Chelsea will not be at full strength either. Reece James is ruled out with a knee injury, Wesley Fofana too. N’Golo Kante is also absent after undergoing hamstring surgery. The Frenchman, who is out of contract at the end of the campaign, is not expected to return until February. Potter rotated his side for the trip to Brentford on Wednesday night and is expected to make changes to his side for the visit of United. Here are three we expected the Chelsea head coach will make.
Thiago Silva for Jorginho
This isn’t a like-for-like switch, as you may have guessed. Yet in order to restore Silva to the heart of the Chelsea defence – and he will be barring an injury – players have to be shifted around elsewhere in the side. Against Brentford in midweek, Trevoh Chalobah occupied the middle centre-back role and did it to good effect against the physical presence of Ivan Toney.
However, for the visit of United, it makes sense for the academy graduate to be moved onto the right of the three to help curtail the threat and speed of Marcus Rashford. That would then allow Cesar Azpilicueta to move into the right wing-back role in the absence of Reece James. It is admittedly far from the ideal solution, but one that does allow Ruben Loftus- Cheek to return to central midfield, the position in which he has impressed this season, ahead of Jorginho.
Loftus-Cheek would be partnered by Mateo Kovacic and potentially Mason Mount in a midfield three, although the England international, who was brought off shortly after the hour mark on Wednesday evening, may be used further forward to squeeze the United backline.
Christian Pulisic for Kai Havertz
It’s not been an easy campaign for Pulisic thus far. The American has made eleven appearances in all competitions, but just two of those have been starts. It is hardly the ideal preparation for the winger ahead of the World Cup next month, not that Potter is overly concerned about the USMNT. “You can imagine my focus is on Chelsea,” Potter said last week.
“I understand that all the players have ambition and want to play for different reasons; for their families, careers, finances or World Cups. That’s all fine, but it’s my job to select the right team for whatever game. “I am not saying I am right all the time, I am not, but somebody has got to make the call. With Christian, I would say he has been fantastic around the place, been really good with teammates, and contributed against Wolves. “He is pushing for a place, pushing for a start. Things change quickly in football, and he needs to be ready.”
Pulisic didn’t start in midweek against Brentford but did have an impact coming off the substitutes’ bench. The 24-year-old was sharp around the penalty box and came close to unlocking the Bees’ backline on a couple of occasions, something in stark contrast to Havertz. The German struggled at the Gtech Community Stadium. It’s not that Havertz was noticeably bad. It’s that he wasn’t noticeable at all for the majority of his 80 minutes. And it shouldn’t result in another start for the visit of United.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Armando Broja
Potter has made an attempt to manage the workload of each of his players over the past fortnight; it’s why Aubameyang was only among the substitutes on Wednesday evening. The 33- year-old did come on for the final ten minutes and had an impact, but it wasn’t enough to win the game. However, it should ensure Aubameyang is fresh to face United at Stamford Bridge.
The former Gabon international has struck three goals for Chelsea in his previous five appearances and has taken on the responsibility of wearing the club’s supposedly cursed number nine shirt. Aubameyang’s experience will likely be invaluable against United – and his expected return to the attack is no slight on Broja. The academy graduate made his full debut against Brentford and highlighted on a couple of occasons why he is highly rated by those within the club’s new hierarchy.
“You saw two or three actions in the first half, which were what he’s about,” Potter said. “He can attack space where if there’s a big space behind, he can give you that possibility. Brentford presses high, and they leave space behind, so Armando, we felt we could use him, and we did it two or three times, but we probably wanted to do it more than we did. “I thought he did okay for his first game, quite well. Obviously, because it was his first game, we thought 60 minutes was about the maximum for him but overall, happy with him.”