We can complain as much as we like about results and performances, waiving away all ‘excuses’ offered, but we need to stop dismissing the impact injuries are having and have had for a worryingly prolonged period. We have had the most injuries of any club in Europe since the start of the 2021/22 season and the impact of that speaks for itself.
Last summer, injuries were reported to have gone up by more than 30 per cent overall since the 2021/22 season with covid and fixture congestion taking its toll, and Chelsea’s in particular, had more than doubled during that period (97). Also notable was that defenders stood out as the most injured, with wing-backs the busiest players covering the greatest distances during games, and having seen Chilwell, Alonso and James all in and out of treatment, it comes as no surprise to see defenders now slightly edging midfielders in the injury numbers.
Like him or not, Graham Potter found himself in a position of having 11 first-team players out at the same time and we know how we looked under him. For Potter, the XI in January 2023 related to Zakaria, Sterling, Pulisic, Kante, James, Fofana, Chilwell, Broja, Loftus-Cheek, Mendy and subsequently Felix to suspension. So, we can say what we like about him but during his tenure, he had the highest number of injuries to contend with of all Premier League managers. The top sides during that season had between 2 (Arsenal) and 4 (City) to compare at the same time we were carrying that 11 – and their seasons were the polar opposite. Liverpool were the next highest with 8 and their season also suffered, at least until their injury situation improved. Unfortunately, neither our injuries nor results improved, with a massive 216 games (1836 days) missed through injury whilst treble winners City had the fewest games missed (62).
In their ‘wisdom’ our new owners decided the best course of action in the summer of 2022 was to dismiss head physio Thierry Laurent and medical chief Paco Biosca in favour of outsourcing some private celebrity physio company. However, the injuries haven’t improved and neither, unsurprisingly, has our form. The current position going into tonight’s game against Fulham therefore, is Ben Chilwell out with another hamstring injury after going off against Brighton, Reece James remains unavailable with the same injury and likely to extend that with a ban after a slanging match in the tunnel. Christopher Nkunku sustained a serious knee injury before the season even got underway and we’re unlikely to see him back this calendar year. Benoit Badiashile also has a hamstring issue and hasn’t been on the pitch for us so far this season. Wesley Fofana is another player we haven’t seen and won’t see this season, due to an ACL injury in the summer. Trevoh Chalobah has a thigh injury. Romeo Lavia is still to make his debut after picking up an ankle injury as soon as he put pen to paper. Marcus Bettinelli has a knee injury and both Malo Gusto and Nicolas Jackson are suspended. Carney Chukwuemeka may be available again after a knee injury and Noni Madueke may also return but neither would be ready to start.
Of course, the impact of these ongoing injuries not only robs us of key players but also the consistency of any available XI to start a game week-to-week. It’s really not rocket science. It is sports science however, but I don’t profess to be an expert in that particular discipline and those that do might be well qualified to challenge me.
Where Pochettino is quick to defend the medical team, others will equally question the manager himself and his training methods after more injuries have seen our worst start to a season since we were relegated in 78/79. Yet that doesn’t tie in with last season’s injuries and woeful form. In fact, at Chelsea, it’s virtually impossible to tie our injuries and subsequent decline down to any individual manager, largely because of the frequency with which managers come and go. We’ve had, what? 4? 5 if you count Bruno. In a mere 16 months since the Americans arrived, we’ve seen Tuchel, Potter, Lampard and Bruno all go and Pochettino come in and each have ultimately had to manage a depleted side. When you look at how they’ve done that though, that’s where the consistency comes in – rotation, but not necessarily in personnel, because obviously that’s been unavoidable in the moment. Positions, less so but each have chosen, for whatever reason, to go for the square peg in round hole option, and these haven’t necessarily been determined by availability. Now we know the impact on performance because we’ve seen more than enough of it, but what’s the impact for players? We can say its psychological because we’ve likely witnessed that but physical impact? What’s the potential risk to a player, whose skills have been honed at centre back, for example, to be asked to play left-back? It requires a different physicality surely? Different preparation – and not just a training session or two. We might instead want to think about playing the system we have the available personnel for, rather than the system players have to be shoehorned into? Novel idea I know.
Anyway, that might explain some of the historical injuries but what about this season, because, with the exception of our wing-backs, who we know sustain more injuries purely down to their position, some of these have barely sniffed a pitch – bad luck? Divots at Cobham? Whatever it is, we need to start seeing an improvement given we’re a mile off Total Football but edging ever closer to Infinite Injuries FC.