Christopher Nkunku return: Four ways Chelsea can line up with £52m signing
The latest on Christopher Nkunku and his scheduled return to action as the Chelsea attacker steps up his recovery from a serious knee injury he suffered in pre-season
Christopher Nkunku is on the brink of making his competitive Chelsea debut as the £52million signing nears his recovery from injury. The France international picked up a knee problem during the Blues’ final pre-season game of their tour of the United States in the summer and has not featured since.
Nkunku was pictured training with the rest of his Chelsea teammates at Cobham earlier in the week and there are suggestions he could make the bench for Saturday’s trip to Newcastle United. Mauricio Pochettino will be cautious and careful when it comes to introducing Nkunku to Premier League football after a lengthy layoff through injury.
Fortunately for Chelsea and Pochettino, the side are currently in a rich vein of form in front of goal. The Blues have scored eight goals in their last two matches against Tottenham and Manchester City, with some attackers full of confidence right now.
The likes of Cole Palmer, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Jackson have all been in fine form over the past two games. Palmer looks like Chelsea’s most creative attacking option right now and all of the positive play has been going through the 21-year-old.
Meanwhile, Sterling was excellent against Manchester City in the game before the break. The former City winger has been enjoying his best run in the Chelsea side since signing from the Manchester-based club almost 18 months ago.
Jackson, too, has thrived in the past couple of games. The Senegal international netted a hat-trick against Spurs and one against City, meaning he now has four goals in his last two matches – making him almost undroppable to Pochettino at this point.
So when Nkunku is back to full fitness and available for selection again (perhaps this weekend from the bench), how does the Frenchman get into what is an in-form Chelsea attacking lineup? Well, there are four possible ways football.london have conjured up.
During Chelsea’s tour of America, we saw Nkunku used a lot as a ‘second striker’, playing behind Jackson. The 26-year-old would often play a tad deeper than his strike partner and also have the ability to free roam into wide positions when necessary.
It allowed Nkunku to have a free role and made it incredibly difficult for opposition defenders/midfielders to keep tabs on him. His movement, from what we saw in pre-season, is really intelligent and he often finds spaces in between the lines because of this.
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Nkunku can play virtually anywhere across the front line. But perhaps the way to go for Pochettino is to use his player just behind the central striker, as we saw in pre-season.
As mentioned, Jackson has looked in fine fettle in the last couple of games but that has not always been the case at Chelsea. Pochettino’s side have struggled against the so-called ‘lesser’ teams this season; teams that arrive with a defensive game-plan and in those particular matches, the Senegalese striker has looked a little bit lost.
So there is an option to use Nkunku as the No.9 in this Chelsea setup. It is something he did time and time again when plying his trade in Germany with RB Leipzig.
His movement off the ball is one of the strongest points to his game and his ability to run in behind a defence, or find gaps against a deep defensive line, is something that could prove a real difference for Chelsea. Even alongside Jackson could be an option considering he often played up front with Andre Silva during his time at Leipzig.
Nkunku played all over the place in the Bundesliga. At points, he was used in wider positions, but almost as an inside forward rather than an out-and-out winger.
This way, he can find new positions to get in behind the defence. Nkunku often looks to run in the gaps between the full-backs and the central defenders and in this position he would be able to do that a lot more.
Different formation, No.10 role
Chelsea have, at times this season, gone for a 4-3-3. Quite often when doing so, Conor Gallagher would be used as the most offensive of the midfield three but this is a role that could suit Nkunku.
This, however, would restrict the Frenchman somewhat from attacking as much as he would like. Nkunku would have to track back to help the likes of Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo. But it is certainly an option.