Chelsea: An Injury Crisis Like No Other

The 2023/24 season was long and difficult for Chelsea, despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. Having spent 25 match weeks bouncing around 10th and 11th place, and even once getting as low as 15th, it was clear that Chelsea were struggling to make headway.

What made their season appear even more difficult was their defensive record. The Blues conceded 63 goals this season, a record far worse than they had in their worst season in Premier League history – the 2022/23 season. Last season, they only conceded 47 goals, boasting a strong defence despite poor overall team performances.

A lot can be thrown into the argument regarding reasons for Chelsea’s struggles this season. It could be due to a new manager coaching an almost fully revamped squad or a squad full of young players. Another factor that has not been talked about much is Chelsea’s injury crisis.

From all 51 games the Blues have played this season, here are some outstanding figures:

  • Only twice (the final two games of the season) in 51 games has Chelsea had less than 6 players sidelined due to injury.
  • On 11 occasions this season, Chelsea has had double-digit players unavailable due to injury, the highest number being 14.
  • 22 players have been sidelined this season due to injury, 20 of whom are regular starters.
  • 15 players have missed more than 10 games.
  • 9 players have missed more than 20 games.
  • 7 players have missed more than 30 games.

Not a Single Minute

A Chelsea player who has not had any game time the entirety of the season is young Frenchman Wesley Fofana. His last game for Chelsea was on May 28, 2023, Chelsea’s final fixture of the 2022/23 season, which they played to a 1-1 draw against Newcastle. In July 2023, just before Chelsea’s trip to the United States for their pre-season tour, the club announced that Fofana had undergone anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery.

This announcement came after Fofana had gotten his first call-up to the France senior national team for the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers. Having been on the bench for the first two fixtures against the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, he made his debut against Gibraltar, playing the whole 90 minutes. He was then on the bench against Greece and was ruled out of the remaining fixtures following his ACL tear.

This was a blow to Chelsea, as the Frenchman had only recently come back from a knee injury that had kept him out for three months in the 2022/23 season. Whether he would be able to return in time for the final few games of the 2023/24 season proved to be something one could only dream of, as there is still no news on a potential return date for Fofana.

Fofana has been an ever-constant name in Chelsea’s injury update list that the club would post before every game of the season.

Thirty-two Minutes in Blue

When Chelsea announced that they had signed Romeo Lavia after a tangle with Liverpool, it was a spectacle that filled the headlines. Spirits were high, so much so that the official announcement from the club had a cameo from fellow Belgian, Eden Hazard. Lavia arrived at Stamford Bridge with a pre-existing injury, and unfortunately, for him and the club, the Belgian was set to be out for a longer period as an ankle injury added to his woes.

The Blues, therefore, went a few more months without one of their biggest signings of the season. Lavia would make his Chelsea debut in December for Chelsea’s 23rd game of the season across all competitions. It was thought he would make his debut in the game prior as he was on the bench, but Mauricio Pochettino did not bring him on. The 23rd game was a Premier League game against Crystal Palace at home. Lavia was brought on as a substitute and played the final 32 minutes of the game.

His debut was a solid start to his career as a Blue, but bad news would soon follow. Chelsea announced that Lavia had picked up a knock in the few minutes he played, and it was later confirmed to be a hamstring injury. There were hopes among the fans that the Belgian would be back towards the end of the season, however, more daunting news followed a few months later.

In March, Chelsea announced that Lavia had suffered a ‘setback’ during his rehabilitation program that would rule him out for the rest of the season. In what was hoped to be a dream debut season for Lavia, it has proven to be one made of nightmares. As Chelsea has been discreet about the nature of Lavia’s injuries and recoveries all season, there is still no knowledge of when Lavia will make a return to the pitch.

Captains of the Sickbay

Twenty-four-year-old Reece James has been at Chelsea since he was six. The Cobham graduate got the honour of a lifetime when he was chosen as captain of his boyhood club. At 23, before the start of the Premier League season, Chelsea announced that James had been selected as captain following the departure of César Azpilicueta. Appointed as vice-captain was Ben Chilwell, who has been attributed as a great leader, and welcoming according to newer players.

While it is always a momentous occasion when new captains are named, there were question marks around Pochettino’s decision. Over the years, Chelsea have had major injury issues. However, Reece James and Ben Chilwell have been the club’s most injury-prone players since 2020.

Due to the pair’s injury-prone nature, there were speculations that the club would miss their main captains for much of the season. Unfortunately, the pair were unable to prove their doubters wrong. In the first game of the season, which ended in a 1-1 draw against Liverpool, James was taken off due to fatigue. Shortly before Chelsea’s second game of the season, the club announced that James had sustained a hamstring injury that would keep him out for several weeks.

The right-back would go on to miss seven games before returning to action right in time for a Premier League London derby against Arsenal towards the end of October. In December, 27 minutes into their Premier League fixture against Everton, James was taken off, seemingly picking up another injury. It was confirmed to be the same injury he had recently returned from. James went on to get surgery, which sidelined him until May.

With three remaining fixtures, Chelsea had their captain back. James came on to play the final 11 minutes against Nottingham Forest. His impact was immediate, as he provided an assist to Nicolas Jackson who scored the winning goal. Chelsea was relishing in having their captain back. However, James went on to pick up a red card. As it was his second of the season, it will keep him out for the first three games of the next Premier League season.

Chilwell, on the other hand, played the first seven games of the season, before he too was announced to have sustained a hamstring injury. The vice-captain missed all of Chelsea’s games from October through December, returning into action a few games into January. In March and April, he missed a few games due to knee problems and illness, keeping him in and out of the squad.

In late April, he had been sidelined again due to knee problems. He was back in the squad for Chelsea’s second to last game of the season, although he was brought onto the pitch. He was not in Chelsea’s squad for the final game of the season, for unknown reasons.

The Cobham CB That May Be Sold

Another player who has been sidelined for most of the season is Cobham graduate Trevoh Chalobah. The centre-back has missed 32 games for Chelsea, all competitions included. He was out for the first six months of the season with a hamstring injury.

His first game back was a 1-1 draw at the Etihad against Manchester City in the Premier League. Chalobah was available for all but one game in Chelsea’s remaining fixtures since then. Since his return, his partnership with Chelsea legend Thiago Silva in central defence has been highly commendable. The defender also netted a goal, in a Premier League London derby against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. The goal was made in Cobham as Conor Gallagher provided the assist.

Chalobah has no interest in leaving his boyhood club, however, Chelsea is open to listening to bids for the centre-back, a questionable choice from the club. Other homegrown talents looking to be sold this summer are Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja.

‘Undergoing Rehabilitation Program’

A phrase that all affiliated with Chelsea must be quite tired of hearing is “undergoing rehabilitation program.” In every injury update released by the club before fixtures, there is a plethora of players who are said to be undergoing rehabilitation programs.

Carney Chukwuemeka, Lesley Ugochukwu, Christopher Nkunku, Lavia, James, Fofana and Chalobah have missed well over thirty games. For most of the season, the club provides updates on their recoveries by stating that they are undergoing rehabilitation programmes. Others such as Levi Colwill, Robert Sanchez, Benoît Badiashile, Ben Chilwell and Enzo Fernandez have also been regulars on the injury updates. Of the injured players Chelsea have had this season, only Moises Caicedo, Axel Disasi and Raheem Sterling have missed less than five games.

The only Chelsea players to not be sidelined due to injury this season are, Djordje Petrovic, Alfie Gilchrist, Conor Gallagher, Nicolas Jackson and Cole Palmer, who was sidelined due to sickness once.

Players have been coming in and out of those updates, even without playing a minute on the pitch. Whatever the reason behind Chelsea’s grave injury situation, it needs to be addressed.

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