The first international break of the year arrived at an unfortunate moment for Chelsea. After a dismal few weeks in which performances were as concerning as the results, Graham Potter's side turned things around and are now unbeaten in four matches.
Three of those ended in victory. Leeds United were beaten at Stamford Bridge, although not easily. Borussia Dortmund were overcome in the Champions League to secure a place in the quarter-finals of the competition. And then the Blues secured their first away victory of the year by downing Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Momentum was checked somewhat by the 2-2 draw against Everton – and the late Ellis Simms equaliser did little to send Chelsea supporters into the international break in good spirits. Yet Potter remains confident progress has been made by his players in recent weeks.
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“I always say with these international breaks that you can’t do anything about them, you just take them for what they are," he said on Saturday. "It’s been an intense few weeks, so we will take a break. We had a decent week, Everton was a performance that was a positive one for us, but ultimately frustrated to drop two points.”
Potter has admitted he will use the international break as a chance to recharge and spend time with his family. But he will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the fixtures his players are involved in in addition to what is going on at the club's training ground.
And here, football.london takes you through what would be the best and worst-case scenario for the Blues during the international break.
There are a handful of Chelsea players who have remained at Cobham during the international break to continue their respective recoveries from injury. The most notable is N'Golo Kante, who made his long-awaited return to the matchday squad against Everton on Saturday.
Kante has not featured for Chelsea since mid-August due to a hamstring injury. That he is now close to a first-team comeback is a huge boost for the squad and for Potter, who has not been able to select the World-Cup winner throughout his tenure.
"N'Golo's due to carry on training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with potentially a game to give him some minutes," the Chelsea head coach explained when asked how Kante will be handled during the break. "We're still planning it but I think it will probably be an internal [match]. That will be good as we need to control it as much as we can."
The international break provides Chelsea with the chance to ensure Kante is ready for the season run-in. It is the same for Wesley Fofana, Mason Mount, and Raheem Sterling, all of whom are not away with their countries due to niggling injuries. The hope is that the trio will be able to return when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge on April 1.
Thiago Silva is also working to return from a knee injury sustained against Tottenham Hotspur but it is unlikely the Brazilian will be ready to feature against Villa. A natural target should be the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. The 38-year-old's experience will be vital in the Bernabeu.
Aside from injury boosts, the international break will give several players an opportunity to gain vital match minutes and, for a select few, put themselves in the shop window. There is expected to be further squad turnover ahead of the 2023/24 campaign and the likes of Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech could put down a marker with the USMNT and Morocco respectively.
Injuries. Always injuries. A knock suffered by Enzo Fernandez. A strain that rules out Joao Felix. These are scenarios Potter will be desperate to avoid as Chelsea cannot afford to be without any of their key players after the international break. Their Champions League campaign depends on it.
On a similar theme, the Chelsea head coach will not want any of those players undertaking rehabilitation work to suffer a setback. Chelsea have – as detailed above – been cautious over Kante's return. It would be a bitter blow for the midfielder's comeback after seven months to be delayed further.
It's a similar tale with Fofana, who has proven himself an impressive performer on the right of the Blues' back three, Mount and Sterling. Chelsea will play at least eight matches in April and Potter will need to use the depth of his squad to avoid overload and ensure his side remains fresh.
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