Chelsea could be forced to sign a left wing-back in January after deciding Ben Chilwell needs an operation on an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Chilwell has been out of action since sustaining a serious knee injury against Juventus last month, but Chelsea have been waiting to see if the problem heals naturally. Thomas Tuchel’s side have not been the same without the England defender and there were hopes that the 25-year-old would boost their title chances by making a swift recovery after he returned to light training this month.
However Chilwell, whose rehabilitation was delayed after he tested positive for Covid-19 before Christmas, is unlikely to play again this season after it emerged that the injury requires surgery. The procedure is expected to take place this week and will leave Chelsea short of options.
Chilwell’s absence is also a blow for England, who have Nations League games against Germany, Hungary and Italy in June. However the defender is expected to have recovered in time for next winter’s World Cup in Qatar. The more pressing concern is the impact his injury will have on his club side.
Marcos Alonso is currently the only left-sided defender at Tuchel’s disposal, with Saúl Ñíguez, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic unconvincing alternatives. Tuchel will be conscious of overplaying Alonso and could decide to enter the market for emergency cover.
Chelsea could look at a loan move for Lucas Digne, who has fallen out of favour at Everton. They have also been credited with interest in Milan’s Theo Hernández, but he would be expensive and difficult to sign at this stage of the season.
Another option would be to recall either Ian Maatsen or Emerson Palmieri from their loan spells. Maatsen, 19, has helped Coventry push for promotion from the Championship and Emerson, who is on loan at Lyon, started when Italy beat England in the Euro 2020 final.
Chelsea, who are six points behind Manchester City at the top of the league, could be without N’Golo Kanté and Thiago Silva when they host Brighton on Wednesday evening. Kanté had a recurrence of a knee injury during Chelsea’s win over Aston Villa on Boxing Day and Silva has a hamstring problem. Meanwhile, Tuchel is waiting to see if Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are ready to return after spells in isolation.