Thomas Tuchel faces N’Golo Kante decision as Chelsea ponder midfield changes vs Atletico Madrid

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Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has some selection decisions to deal with when the Blues return to Champions League action on Tuesday as they take on Atletico Madrid in the last 16.

Chelsea are still unbeaten under Tuchel since he replaced Frank Lampard in the top job but the German’s winning run came to an end at the weekend after the below-par Blues were held to a 1-1 draw by Southampton at St Mary’s.

Tuchel faced some adversity for the first time as head coach at the club when his side went into the half time break 1-0 down thanks to Takumi Minamino’s well-taken goal. Chelsea responded in the second half through Mason Mount’s penalty but, not for the first time, a lack of ruthlessness and precision in the final third blighted the performance.

Tuchel made changes to his starting eleven for the game as N’Golo Kante made his first Premier League start under the German, as did Kurt Zouma at centre back. Jorginho was on the bench for the first time in the league since Tuchel arrived while Andreas Christensen also made way on the south coast.

Kante put in a typical Kante performance at St Mary’s as he showed signs of being back at full tilt after a somewhat rusty return to action after a hamstring injury in his previous three appearances.

Tuchel was happy with Zouma’s return as well. Despite Thiago Silva being back in training after injury, there is no guarantee he starts against Atletico Madrid so Zouma’s inclusion could be a shrewd move from Tuchel. If he is fit then the Brazilian surely plays, likely replacing Zouma in the back three with Cesar Azpilicueta guaranteed of a starting spot.

The head coach said of his French defender: “Today I learned a lot of positive things about Kurt Zouma in his performance which was very positive. We decided it late to put him on the pitch.

“He had a good game. He was present and clear in his actions. He fulfilled his role at the top level, very very good.”

With Kante showing he is still very much a world class player and confounding some ridiculous doubts that he was on some sort of decline, Tuchel’s midfield setup against Atletico will be interesting.

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Does Kante start ahead of Joginho again? Does the head coach switch to four at the back so he can play Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic from the get go?

At wing back, there is a conundrum between Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James if Tuchel decides to go with a back five once again which he has shown a preference for since taking over.

Hudson-Odoi was substituted on at half time at St Mary’s but hauled off 31 minutes later with Tuchel not happy with the England international’s performance off the bench, suffering the ignominy of the substitute being substituted which no player wants.

Tuchel insisted post-match that will all be forgotten about by Sunday and that Hudson-Odoi could start against Atletico, but where? James is the better defender of the two but Hudson-Odoi the better attacker and with Tuchel’s tactical width coming from his two wing backs, James might get the nod.

Up front, Tammy Abraham lasted only 45 minutes after his surprise inclusion against Saints despite being forced off against Newcastle five days previously with an ankle injury. Tuchel said post-match that Abraham’s withdrawal was tactical as he couldn’t have the desired impact but the striker was spotted with an ice pack on his ankle in the stands during the second half.

Olivier Giroud didn’t get off the bench on Saturday, perhaps being saved for Tuesday night in Bucharest perhaps. Though a more mobile forward might be of benefit when coming up against a defence like Atletico’s though they will be without the services of Jose Gimenez for the game after he limped off during the defeat to Levante at the weekend.

All in all, the Chelsea boss has plenty of quandaries on his plate when it comes to team selection. His starting lineup looked pretty settled heading into the game at Southampton at the weekend but after a somewhat lethargic display on the south coast, maybe it isn’t as cut and dry as we first thought.





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