Chelsea begin their Champions League knockout stage campaign this Wednesday as they take on Borussia Dortmund in the last 16. Graham Potter will be hoping to keep his unbeaten record in European action for Chelsea intact with a trip to Germany arriving this week with the second leg to be played at Stamford Bridge in March.
Although focus has now only just primarily shifted to the Blues’ game against Dortmund, there has been a lot of Champions League-related talk emerging over the last few weeks from the club. That was because Potter faced a number of significant dilemmas over who to include in his 25-man squad.
Of the seven new acquisitions joining in January, only three could be named out of David Datro Fofana, Andrey Santos, Joao Felix, Benoit Badiashile, Mykhailo Mudryk, Noni Madueke and Enzo Fernandez. The first two names were relatively easy omissions given their lack of experience and game time at the club since joining.
Despite Badiashile’s three clean sheets in four games, he and Madueke were the unfortunate duo to miss out. A spare slot from the initial squad submitted and Jorginho’s departure meant two of the new signings could go straight in, but a third name being included would mean someone else had to miss out.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the chosen player and therefore will not be able to feature against his former club. The 33-year-old has since been left out of the last two Chelsea matchday squads amid talk of a transfer to MLS side Los Angeles FC.
With the off-pitch decisions now out of the way, all eyes of a Chelsea persuasion will turn to Wednesday evening’s potentially season-defining clash. With Ruben-Loftus Cheek and Felix returning, Chelsea put in their best performance of the last few months against West Ham, with Potter’s men particularly dominant in the first half.
The exclusion of Badiashile will mean the Blues boss is forced into at least one change and he will also likely be wary that a number of players could miss the second leg.
Kalidou Koulibaly, Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher and Mudryk are all one yellow card away from being suspended for Chelsea’s next game in the competition. The Champions League rules state that three yellow cards will result in a one-game suspension, so a caution at Signal Iduna Park would make the player unavailable for the tie’s other game back in west London.
If that group avoid bookings against Dortmund and Chelsea are able to get through, their worries are not completely over as yellow cards are only wiped once the quarter-finals have been completed.
With Chelsea now deploying a back four, Trevoh Chalobah and Koulibaly look to be the two players fighting for a spot in the team next to Thiago Silva. However, Wesley Fofana is closing in on a return from injury and could be available to start.
The Frenchman has not played a competitive game since early October though, which means a start is unlikely. Koulibaly missed the West Ham clash through illness, but is now back in training. If Potter’s decision is between Koulibaly and Chalobah he has to consider a number of factors before deciding which of his defenders to play next to Silva.
Koulibaly of course holds the experience advantage, but Silva and Chalobah’s defensive relationship is likely stronger and the Brazil international has already shown this season how effective he can be in a partnership with a younger players next to him.