Chelsea holds talks on star’s future amid Nkunku’s injury concern
In the end it was a typical cup win over a side in the division below, but Chelsea did not make light work of Preston North End at Stamford Bridge. A goalless first half left Mauricio Pochettino fuming as he head back down the tunnel before the referee blew his whistle and the Blues were looking void of quality to find a way past Freddie Woodman.
Things did not improve immediately when the players returned from the break but Mykhailo Mudyrk and Malo Gusto were able to find a moment of quality for Armando Broja to match with his head. The Albania international opened the scoring and allowed the floodgates to open as Thiago Silva, Raheem Sterling and Enzo Fernandez each added a goal.
The west London side navigated their way into the fourth round of the FA Cup to maintain an unbeaten record in knockout football since Pochettino’s arrival at the club. With Middlesbrough next in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup, football.london takes a look at some of the talking to arise from Chelsea’s win below.
Armando Broja audition
It was a difficult first half for the 22-year-old striker. He was starved of much action in the box and found it difficult to maintain possession of the ball in the rare opportunities it was able to reach him. Ultimately the currency of his performances lie in finding the net and that he was able to do against Preston on Saturday afternoon.
This month will see increased scrutiny on the Cobham product with Nicolas Jackson in the Ivory Coast representing Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. That level of pressure will have only increased when Christopher Nkunku picked up a hip issue on Friday that saw him miss the FA Cup clash with uncertainty whether he will play across the next seven days.
It was the young forward’s second goal of the season having last netted in his first start against Fulham in October. Finding his way to full fitness and fluency, following his ACL injury, has proved difficult and Broja’s 76-minute outing at Stamford Bridge was his longest stay on the pitch all season.
Pochettino is adamant that Broja has plenty of potential, and in the summer was conscious of his pathway. The Blues boss wants the forward to do more to bounce back from his injury absence.
He said in his press conference: “It’s really important for him but I need to be honest, I think he needs to use this type of game to improve. Not only in his fitness or his capacity for work ethic, he needs to step up and move forward and smile more and be more positive in the way he needs to improve in his game. The potential is amazing, we are talking about a young striker here in England or Europe, with one of the most potential. He needs to push himself, and we are going to try to help, to realise it’s never enough and work really hard.
“By the way, he has suffered in the past a big injury, nearly one year away and now needs time. It’s not easy for him to perform or to be at the level that we expect. Our expectation is massive and we really need him and will push him.”
Broja’s performances in the coming matches could go a long way in aiding Chelsea’s decision over whether to push for a new striker in the market. There’s a possibility that Broja, Jackson and Nkunku may be enough for the remainder of the season and beyond, but should a move in the transfer market await, it would seem inevitable that the Cobham product is most likely to makeway.
Pochettino remains understanding of Broja’s situation this term, but also wants to push him further a delivered high praise. The striker’s future could be set on course in the coming weeks.
Transfer meeting awaits
It once again became clear that Chelsea, for the moment, do not seem set on having a January transfer window as busy as 12 months ago. They hold interest in strengthening in forward positions and in the backline but there appears to be equal opportunity for that to occur in the summer as in the next few weeks.
There is an understanding that the club still need to discover what the squad truly offers when the injury list has diminished, with 11 players missing on Saturday afternoon. Instead the focus is likely to be on whose future lies away from the club.
Borussia Dortmund hold an interest in Ian Maatsen, while there remains interest surrounding Trevoh Chalobah. Facilitating loans for those on the fringes too appears to be on the agenda.
Sunday will see Pochettino meet with Laurence Stewart, Paul Winstanley and Behdad Eghbali at Cobham to expand upon their daily conversation. Andrey Santos appears to be top of that list to chat about following his return from Nottingham Forest.
“To be honest we didn’t talk about names,” said Pochettino in response to a question about Jordan Henderson. “At the moment we are not talking about bringing players. I saw Behdad here in the manager’s room with Paul and Laurence. I think tomorrow we are going to have a chat because we will be in the training ground. We didn’t talk about names or talk about position, we didn’t talk to bring players. For now, we are focusing on players like Andrey Santos to see what we are going to do.”
While there was not a great deal of rotation away from Pochettino’s first choice XI, Saturday’s win did see Aflie Gilchrist make his full debut, while 17-year-old Michael Golding appeared for the senior side for the first time. The development squad’s Dylan Williams made it on to the bench for the first time this term too having last featured in the group in February 2022.
Two goalkeepers remaining on the bench will have frustrated some, while Leo Castledine likely missed out on the group having picked up a knock earlier in the week. With academy coaching staff Mark Robinson and James Simmonds in attendance, the Preston match will have been seen as a point of connection and example of a pathway between first team and academy however. With another FA Cup game to come and Championship opposition in the Carabao Cup, perhaps more opportunities await.
Having been light on full match practice, Gilchrist produced a strong hour-long performance, and was arguably the best performer on the pitch during this period. It’s safe to say the outing was a proud moment for the Blues supporter.
He said following the game: “Crazy being out there as a Chelsea fan and being here so long it meant so much for me, friends and family in the crowd as well. Big moment and just wish to keep going. Really enjoyed it, when I was playing in the under-21s, I always used to say in the EFL Trophy,playing against men’s teams, they’re my favourite games because they’re a challenge.”
Whether he continues to supplement the first team with Benoit Badiasihle and Ben Chilwell close to a return or is put in a position to take advantage of loan interest will be an interesting narrative to watch in the coming weeks.
Chelsea have accomodated a numer of academy stars in first team training this season such have been the club’s injury issues. Golding was part of the group this week and was rewarded.
Cobham product and captain against Preson, Levi Colwill said of the England under-17 international: “He’s very tidy, training alongside him you see how much of a player he is and hopefully he keeps working hard and gets to make more appearances.”
There is plenty of talent who will now be chomping at the bit to feature. Castledine will know an opportunity could be close while Ishe Samuels-Smith was once again around the group. A talent such as Kiano Dyer must know he can perhaps find a route too with the 16-year-old having already impressed at the under-21 level.