Chelsea have received a huge double injury setback, ahead of Sunday’s clash with London rivals West Ham United at Stamford Bridge.
What’s the word?
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Thomas Tuchel confirmed that both Mateo Kovacic and Antonio Rudiger will absent for the visit of the Hammers, with the German stating that: “For Sunday they [Kovacic and Rudiger] are not back. But no other new injuries.”
Kovacic had appeared unlikely to feature having suffered ankle ligament damage in the FA Cup semi-final win over Crystal Palace at the weekend, with that issue causing him to miss Wednesday’s shambolic 4-2 defeat at the hands of Arenal.
As for Rudiger, the German defender was also absent from that recent loss due to a groin injury, with the Blues boss earlier this week having deemed it unlikely to that he would play a part against David Moyes’ side.
Tuchel will be gutted
While the fact there are no new injuries to contend with will be a welcome boost for the former Paris Saint-Germain head coach, the confirmation that two of his star men will be absent this weekend will no doubt come as a significant blow.
In the case of Kovacic, Tuchel only recently insisted that the Croatian was “crucial” to everything that the west London outfit do, both on and off the pitch, while football.london’s Adam Newson noted that the common denominator in the club’s recent home defeats to Brentford, Real Madrid and the Gunners was the absence of the 27-year-old from the starting XI.
So far this season, the one-time Inter Milan man has been in stunning form in the centre of the park, with his 7.26 average match rating the sixth-highest in the Blues’ squad, while the also the best rating among the current crop of central midfielders.
It is his quality both in and out of possession that Tuchel’s men will miss so long as he is absent, with the £40.5m-rated man registering 2.2 tackles per game and winning 62% of his duels, while in an attacking sense he has also thrived, chipping in with five assists and completing 1.6 dribbles per game, as per SofaScore.
Such form has seen him dubbed “absolutely incredible” by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville earlier this season, with supporters seemingly praying that he returns to action quickly, such has been his impact of late.
The same can be said of course about Rudiger – a man once dubbed the “most commanding centre-back in the league” by Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand – with the former Roma star also enjoying a fine campaign thus far.
Despite the persistent speculation about his future, the £100k-per-week ace has continued to perform to an elite level, averaging 1.3 tackles and 2.6 clearances per game in his 28 Premier League outings so far this season – all of which have come as starts.
His importance to the side was also keenly felt in his absence in midweek, with Tuchel left reeling at the string of defensive errors from his side, while talkSPORT pundit Dean Saunders also took aim at both Malang Sarr and Andreas Christensen for their shoddy displays.
The hope would have been to have the 50-cap international back in action this weekend to help steady the ship, although this latest confirmation of his injury blow will almost certainly leave the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio licking their lips.
It remains to be seen just how much Chelsea will miss both of their chief assets on Sunday.