Former Blues midfielder and TV presenter Craig Burley was astonished when Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel decided to bench Mateo Kovacic against Brighton on Wednesday. Kante and Jorginho started the game ahead of the Croatian international.
After sharing the spoils at the Amex Stadium, Tuchel's side are now six games without a win in the Premier League and 12 points behind league-leaders Manchester City. They have also played one game more (22) than the defending champions.
Speaking on an ESPN show, the former Scotland international expressed his surprise at seeing one of Chelsea's top performers this season not start the game. Tuchel brought Werner, Havertz and Kovacic as substitutes in the second half. Burley said:
“One point I want to make is about team selection. Kovacic, was a player who was out injured. He came back in, scored that wonderful goal and was their best player against Liverpool, if memory serves me right.''
Burley added that Kovacic couldn't be tired enough to be relegated to the bench after the game against Manchester City especially since Kovacic was the Blues' best player in the game. He said:
“Then he was their best player, one of them certainly, at Man City, in a poor performance (from Chelsea), but he was going snipping around, trying to win the ball back. And then he’s on the bench. He can’t be that tired, can he. You put your best midfielder, who gets you on the front foot passes the ball, on the bench.”
However, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel explained why he decided not to field Kovacic on Wednesday. The German coach said that the he did not want to overuse the midfielder and had to be cautious with his fitness since the Croatian had recently returned from injury. He said:
"We have to be a little bit cautious with Kova. We don’t want to overuse him. He’s played a lot after injury and maybe we rushed him back a little bit for all these matches.''
"Of course, he’s very strong and was happy to play but we have to be careful. As we have Jorgi and N’Golo back, we thought we didn’t need to take any risks with him and we could save him for this game – especially with another big game coming up on Sunday.''
Joe Cole surprised by Romelu Lukaku's limited impact on Tuchel's Chelsea
Chelsea legend Joe Cole has said he had assumed Romelu Lukaku's arrival at Stamford Bridge from Inter Milan would be the 'final piece in the jigsaw.' But he is surprised by the Belgian's very minimal impact on the Chelsea team since signing in the summer.
Cole went on to say that Chelsea have been dropping points constantly over the last few weeks of the season despite Lukaku being in the team. He said:
"When he brought in Lukaku, we all thought that was going to be the final piece of the jigsaw and it still could be.''
"The whole puzzle has to work. The last month Chelsea have dropped points for the first time since he’s come in. Tonight is an opportunity to get that system going again."
Notably, Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea for a club-record fee of €115 million from Inter Milan. He helped the Nerazzurri win the Serie A title after a decade, scoring 24 league goals. However, the 28-year-old has gotten off to a slow start at Stamford Bridge, scoring five goals in 15 Premier League games.
The Blues will be hoping that Lukaku finds form soon and will be looking to bounce back to winning ways when they host Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. (January 23)