Liverpool’s growing injury list could pave the way for summer signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make his first Premier League start.
The £35million summer signing started his first Champions League match in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Maribor, a game which saw midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum limp off with an ankle problem after just 17 minutes.
With the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane – as well as defenders Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne – all currently out, Jurgen Klopp‘s attacking options are diminishing.
And it could point towards Oxlade-Chamberlain making the starting line-up when they play West Ham on Saturday.
“If he starts a Champions League game, he is not far from starting a Premier League game, no?” said Klopp.
“He was good, he offered a lot, I loved his counter-pressing situations. I’m not sure he did this a lot of times in his life already so it was really nice to see.”
Second-half goals from Mohamed Salah, Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge meant Liverpool – for whom James Milner missed a penalty – edged closer to the knockout stages.
But with his resources reduced further after Wijnaldum’s injury, Klopp may have to turn to the same players again at the weekend.
“At half-time the ankle was already swollen. It is probably not a good sign,” said Klopp.
“We saw a kick in the game, we didn’t think it was too serious, we were not sure if it was swollen or if he twisted it. For sure we have to make a scan.
“Gini is out, maybe there will be some wonder (recovery) with Phil but I don’t think at the moment that he can play.
“We’ve missed three – and probably with Gini four – of the most creative players in the league with Sadio Mane, Phil Coutinho, Adam Lallana and then Gini Wijnaldum. That doesn’t make life easier.
“With Dejan (Lovren) it’s different, it’s not the same problem as Phil had.”
Six months later, the reigning English champions are nine points behind leaders Manchester City – who finished 15 points behind Chelsea last season – after just 10 games. They’ve emerged from a Champions League double-header with Roma having somehow scraped a 3-3 draw at home, before being thrashed 3-0 in Rome on Tuesday night to leave the side reeling and nearing a crisis point.
Here are seven deadly stats that underline Chelsea’s fall.
SQUAD DEPTH BEING TESTED – AND FAILING
Conte made it a point both during the summer transfer window and after it had closed to mention his dissatisfaction with the club’s overall business, saying his squad lacked the depth given Chelsea’s involvement in European competition this season.
It seemed a remarkable thing to say about a side that had more or less cruised to the Premier League crown last season, but the prevailing wisdom even at the time of his statement was that the manager’s assessment was spot on, and subsequent events have proved him right, as Conte has been forced to rotate much more than he would’ve liked, and his squad has not proved up to the task.
Danny Drinkwater arrived at Chelsea in the summer but only made his debut last week after recovering from injury. Fellow summer arrival Tiemoue Bakayoko still doesn’t look like he’s at full fitness, though he was rushed into the side in August as Chelsea’s lack of midfield depth was made painfully evident. Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, and Victor Moses have been among the notable absentees, while the most significant one has undoubtedly been N’Golo Kante.
Last season, Chelsea used only 16 different outfield players before the penultimate league fixture, when the title was already secured and Conte could afford to rotate. So far this season, they’ve already used 17.
KANTE A MISS
Speaking of N’Golo Kante…has there been a more important player in the Premier League in recent times? Leicester City fell apart just months after a miraculous title win with the sale of Kante one of the biggest causes, and Chelsea are experiencing something similar, if not as drastic, in the Frenchman’s absence.
An injury suffered in the last international break has caused Kante to miss six games, and potentially a seventh if he can’t recover for Sunday’s crucial clash against Manchester United.
One of those games came against one of the Premier League’s least potent attacks, Bournemouth, and Chelsea duly kept a clean sheet. Across the other five games, the champions have been a shambles.
In total, the record reads: six games without Kante, 11 goals conceded.
DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES LAID BARE BY ROMA
Watford ran Chelsea’s defence ragged at times and probably should’ve scored more than the two goals they managed, but no team made the Blues’ defensive frailty more apparent than Roma.
Chelsea held a 2-0 lead at one point against the Italians in the two sides’ first clash, at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago. After Hazard scored Chelsea’s second on the night in the 37th minute, Roma outscored the English champions 6-1 in just over a game and a half.
The Blues’ resilience came to the fore as they rescued a point after Roma erased that 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2, but that couldn’t mask the fact that they’d shipped three goals. And just two weeks later, they did it again.
Chelsea: In two games against Roma, Chelsea have conceded as many goals as their previous eight Champions League matches combined (6)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 31, 2017
VETERANS BECOMING INDISCIPLINED
Luiz has always been regarded as a slightly indisciplined, maverick defender, but Conte seemed to have reined that in and enhanced the Brazilian’s positive attributes last season. In this campaign, however, Luiz has seemingly reverted to his old self.
After making one defensive error all of last season in the Premier League, he’s already matched that mark across 11 league and European appearances this term. He’s losing far more tackles per 90 minutes – 1.19 in the Premier League in 2016-17 vs 2.14 in the league and 3.05 in Europe this campaign.
Most significantly, after picking up six yellow cards and no reds in the title-winning success, he’s already at a combined four this season, five if you include the Champions League.
Club captain Gary Cahill has also struggled this season, and it’s starting to show in his numbers. From 0.93 tackles lost per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season, it’s 1.10 in league and Europe combined this time around. And let’s not forget the rash, ludicrous challenge he put in early on in Chelsea’s league opener, which earned him a red card and sent the champions on their way to a 3-2 home defeat to Burnley.
CONTE’S WORST START?
Chelsea famously made a poor start to Conte’s reign, slumping to defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal last season before the Italian righted the ship by switching to three at the back. The rest, as they say, is history.
Perhaps that’s a sign that it’s still too early to write Chelsea off this season, even as they’ve slipped to nine points behind league leaders Manchester City.
But Conte hasn’t had quite this bad a start to a season in a long time. And even when that happened, in 2009, it was as manager of Atalanta. Conte resigned halfway through that season after an altercation with fans, and Atalanta were eventually relegated at the end of the season.
It’s a far cry from managing the English champions.
— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) October 14, 2017
STAMFORD BRIDGE NO LONGER A FORTRESS
A 2-1 loss to Liverpool while they were still finding their feet under Conte and a loss to Crystal Palace by the same scoreline when they were 10 points clear at the top – these were the only two times they dropped points in 19 Premier League home games last season.
This season, they lost to Burnley and Manchester City and drawn against Arsenal to drop points in three of their first four league games at Stamford Bridge. And it could easily have gotten worse: their 4-2 win over Watford in their most recent home league fixture was fortuitous, as the Hornets should have put the game to bed after going 2-1 up, passing up some glorious chances before Chelsea began their comeback.
It doesn’t get any easier. The next opponent they welcome to Stamford Bridge in the league? Manchester United.
8 – Chelsea have dropped eight points in four Premier League home games so far in 2017-18; two more than in the whole of 2016-17 (6). Gloom. pic.twitter.com/gokdpS8Aiu
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 30, 2017
CONTE LACKING EUROPEAN PEDIGREE
Although Antonio Conte has made a name for himself as one of the world’s top managers, perhaps it shouldn’t be such a shock that his side are struggling in the Champions League.
Firstly, a bit of perspective: before the Roma double header, Chelsea thrashed Qarabag 6-0 and picked up a superb away win against Atletico Madrid.
But overall, Conte’s managerial record in the Champions League isn’t impressive. In his 20 games in the competition, his teams have won just eight, drawing seven and losing five.
Those games have come with him in charge of a Chelsea side that dominated the Premier League last season and a Juventus team that was even more dominant. In the 2013-14 season, Juventus failed to make it out of the group stages, being pipped to second place by Galatasaray in a group that also included Real Madrid. Juventus won only one of their six group games that season.
Of course, in the previous season, his Juventus side beat Chelsea, then the reigning European champions, 3-0 in Turin, a result that cost then-Blues manager Roberto Di Matteo his job – although Conte wasn’t on the touchline that day, as he was serving a four-month ban for failing to report alleged match-fixing during his time as manager of Siena. The terms of his ban meant he was allowed to take charge in training, so his fingerprints were all over that win over Chelsea.
Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Roma was Chelsea’s heaviest Champions League loss since that day. They should still qualify for the knockout stages thanks to Atletico Madrid’s unexpected struggles, but Conte needs to buck up.
While the Gunners boss feels Wilshere should be handed a recall, Press Association Sport understands he will not be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
Southgate will name the players who have made the cut on Thursday, with Wenger revealing he had spoken to the England boss about Wilshere in recent days.
The 25-year-old has not appeared in a Three Lions squad in a year and he last played for England when he came on as a substitute in the shock 2-1 defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016.
He was named in a Southgate squad last November while on loan at Bournemouth but did not feature against either Scotland or Spain.
There was talk of a recall as Wilshere has impressing in his Europa League outings for Arsenal, having been able to keep fit following a torrid couple of years with injuries, but it is believed he will miss out – with Tottenham‘s Harry Winks retaining his place.
Wilshere’s Arsenal contract expires at the end of the season and, having played just 13 minutes of Premier League football, Wenger still wants to see more before potentially opening discussions over a new deal next month.
“I said many times that would be decided in December,” he said when asked about Wilshere’s contract.
“I wanted to give him six months not to think about that and see where we go. He was determined and ready to be in the dark at the start and work hard.
“Now he feels as well – and nobody knows better than you do yourself – that he has found that little bit of sharpness that is decided in the first two yards.”
Asked if he had discussed Wilshere’s England prospects with Southgate, Wenger replied: “Yes, I spoke to him about Jack before the Swansea game.
“I don’t know if he will be called up. He just asked me how he is and I said no restrictions. He’s in a very good way.
“Personally, I think he’s ready. He was not three weeks ago but he is today. He’s ready. I have the same problem. He’s competitive. In every single competition, he’s ready to play. I would encourage him to do it.
“I can only repeat what I personally think: I don’t know how you can keep a super-fit Jack out of the England squad. I manage him like every single player. Since three weeks, he is treated like any other player.”
Wilshere has had to use his opportunities in the Europa League to make an impact and is likely to once again start when Arsenal host Red Star Belgrade on Thursday knowing victory will secure qualification into the round of 32.