It is quite incredible that is has taken an injury to Branislav Ivanovic to force Jose Mourinho to replace the Serbian. The inexplicable allegiance that the manager has shown to his right-back despite his dismal form makes one wonder if he will continue playing him even with a hamstring problem.
All jokes aside, Ivanovic has been ruled out for three weeks after picking a hammy tear while playing for his country this week. Chelsea fans don’t know how to feel about this, with the group of Blues glad at the prospect of a much-needed change outnumbering the group feeling unhappy about the injury.
— Bill (@ChelseaFCMD) October 13, 2015
My good Lord decided to start my day with a good news. Come join me as I celebrate Branislav Ivanovic’s injury
— Cross˚ (@Elcrucifixio) October 9, 2015
It is time for Mourinho to get his thinking cap on and search for alternatives for the game against Aston Villa on Saturday. Chelsea are currently in 16th place and no result is a given with the way they are playing. Even though their opponents are placed below them in the table and are struggling just as much, a morale-boosting victory is a must here for the defending champions to regain some of their long-lost confidence.
Clear area of weakness
The Blues’ defence was arguably their biggest strength last year as they strolled to the title. This season, there has been a complete turn of events. The backline has struggled and has conceded an incredible 17 goals with just 8 games gone, more than half let in in the whole of the last campaign.
The biggest weakness has been the right-hand side, with Ivanovic being the major reason. The Serb has been beaten for pace time and time again and his poor positioning has done him no favours either. Opponents have, unsurprisingly, targeted this loophole and achieved great results by doing so.
Therefore, the decision of who will replace Ivanovic in the next three games is a very important one. If this clicks, it could turn Chelsea’s season around. A sound defence will automatically lay the foundations for a better performance going forwards as well.
Here are 3 possible replacements for Ivanovic at Mourinho’s disposal for the weekend and beyond:
1) Abdul Baba Rahman
The Ghanaian is yet to make an appearance in the Premier League after his £14 million move from Augsburg in the summer. He has though, featured in the Champions League at left-back with Cesar Azpilicueta moving over to the right in place of Ivanovic. This has made the team dynamic look a lot more solid both while defending and attacking.
Baba Rahman may be young and relatively inexperience but to be brutally honest, can’t be worse than what Ivanovic has been this season. His lack of height and weight in comparison to the Serb is a possible reason Mourinho hasn’t made that switch yet, but he may get a chance to prove his worth on Saturday.
2) Kurt Zouma
The Frenchman’s integration into the first-team has been one of few positives in an otherwise appalling season for Chelsea. Height, pace, power, you name it and Zouma has got it. He is more than capable of playing as a full-back too. With Mourinho obsessing over playing someone with over 6 foot tall, he may be slightly ahead of Baba Rahman in the pecking order at the moment. The 20 year-old has risen marvellously to every challenge put in front of him so far and will look to do so with this one too.
3) A curveball?
Mourinho is not known to do something completely dramatic out-of-the-blue and so this option is the most improbable one. Brazilian Kenedy is naturally an attacking midfielder, but made his debut at left-back earlier on in the season. Playing him there from the start would spoil the whole defensive setup and is therefore unlikely to happen.
Youngster Ola Aina was included in the pre-season tour after a stellar campaign with the Youth Team last year but hasn’t made the cut in the big-time…yet. Getting a chance ahead both Baba Rahman and Zouma though, may be too much to ask for the 19 year-old. The same goes for Papy Djilobodji who was signed in the summer from Nantes. The big, strong Senegalese international is very similar to Zouma physically but hasn’t quite got that level of ability.
It will be interesting to see which of the above options Mourinho decides to go with on Saturday. Chelsea are in desperate need for a win and if a change on the right-hand side of the defence make a big difference, then maybe, just maybe, Ivanovic will be confined to the bench even after he makes his return.