Chelsea’s defense used to be a strength. You need Wesley Fofana to make it again

“Soft, soft, soft,” said Thomas Tuchel, and the replay left no doubt about his judgment of the goals Chelsea conceded in Southampton. His vocabulary – cheap, sloppy, lack of concentration, different mentality, hardened – revealed his dissatisfaction.

Tuchel’s time at Stamford Bridge was based on a form of toughness. Chelsea were tough to beat and tough to score as they conceded just two goals in their first 14 games and just two in seven knockouts in a successful Champions League campaign. Her mental toughness was evident as her results were better on the road. They felt battle-hardened, not soft.

If part of Tuchel’s cure is restoring that kind of toughness, an intriguing part is that the other element involves the relatively untried. Wesley Fofana has joined Chelsea as one of the most expensive defenders in the world. He’s also never featured as a 21-year-old centre-back who missed most of last season through injury, has never played in the Champions League and comes from a side that struggled for a place in the top four even as Leicester was synonymous with thrift. He has only helped keep Chelsea twice clean sheets since ruling out Chelsea in the 2021 FA Cup final but will be tasked with restoring solidity.

Fofana brings huge potential, the likelihood of improvement and the pace that some others in Chelsea’s aging defense lack. There was evidence of his importance at Leicester, particularly in the way they proved incapable of defending set pieces in his prolonged absence. A £70m fee is not just succession planning but an attempt to fix a position for a decade. It’s also roughly the cumulative amount Chelsea received for Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi, Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. Fofana could prove to be better than everyone else, with the possible exception of the German, and the free transfers of Ruediger and Christensen might have been avoided had Chelsea not been left in limbo for months after Roman Abramovich was sanctioned. Still, the numbers don’t look very flattering.

Others too, and in an area that used to be Tuchel’s specialty. Chelsea have conceded eight goals in their last four league games. It’s more than they conceded in the top 14 last season. Some of the mistakes have come from Tuchel’s defenders, some from his signings, some from the outlaws: individual errors and goals conceded from set pieces.

The most egregious error came when Edouard Mendy was robbed by Brenden Aaronson for Leeds’ first goal in the 3-0 win. But Jorginho lost the ball for Tottenham’s first equalizer in a 2-2 draw and Cesar Azpilicueta’s poor clearance saw Southampton equalize in a 2-1 win. A loss of goals was compounded by a loss of discipline: Kalidou Koulibaly, signed in the summer, fouled Leeds’ fast runners and received two cautions at Elland Road; another, Marc Cucurella, was guilty of the poor pass that led to Conor Gallagher’s red card against Leicester.

Losing to two of the division’s youngest sides in Leeds and Southampton is a cause for concern for Chelsea. Tuchel may cite mental weaknesses but perhaps the problem lies in age, even if the eldest of them all, Thiago Silva, was flawless. But the experience, which seemed to be an advantage when a 100-year-old line of defenses of Koulibaly, Silva and Azpilicueta helped keep Everton clean, has looked less of an advantage since; Tuchel was reluctant to pick his captain whose new deal, the Spaniard said, came after talks with the owners. When Reece James was brought on as a central defender and cost Chelsea their attacking performance, it was a vote of no confidence in the captain.

Jorginho looked tense and isolated as he was stripped of the reassuring presence of either N’Golo Kante or Mateo Kovacic at his side, and the midfield has felt disjointed since the Frenchman’s injury. Koulibaly, another thirty-year-old, started in commanding form but was ragged at Leeds in a way that has hinted he wants protection too. Tuchel’s preferred formation, a 3-4-3, offers it, but he’s switched to 4-2-2-2 in the last two games for an attacking cut. But that can expose older legs; in trying to solve one problem, he may aggravate another.

Fofana and Koulibaly could be a plausible partnership in a duo, but Chelsea’s standout defender this season, Silva, is best suited for a back three. The confusing part of Cucurella’s signing is that impressive as he has often looked, the Spaniard at Ben Chilwell appears to be a £62m upgrade for a player who didn’t need an upgrade. He set the tone for an expensive overhaul.

Fofana became Todd Boehly’s latest big buck purchase this summer

(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Fofana’s arrival has taken defender spending to over £160m this summer – if you get Josko Gvardiol next year the totals could reach £230m or £240m – and Chelsea’s defense has been falling so far. A flawless collective has begun to look flawed individuals. Mistakes have crept in, bodies have gotten tired, the mix of old and new isn’t configured as precisely as with Tuchel’s Champions League winner. And while the team that beat Fofana in the FA Cup final 15 months ago had arguably Europe’s best defense, the side he now joins have conceded more goals than Brentford and Everton. Chelsea need a man bought to add speed to settle down quickly.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/wesley-fofana-chelsea-transfer-defence-b2156649.html Chelsea’s defense used to be a strength. You need Wesley Fofana to make it again

Fry Electronics Team

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