Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Chelsea’s teamsheet was announced ahead of the Blues’ 2-0 win over Newcastle United on Saturday.
No Thibaut Courtois. No Gary Cahill.
Was this just a coincidence that Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper and center back were both missing from the starting lineup, but still fit enough for the bench, the week after Chelsea were thumped 5-3 by Tottenham Hotspur?
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According to assistant coach Steve Holland, who has taken over the press conference role for Jose Mourinho in the past few days, Courtois was struggling with a knock and Cahill was being rested.
“It was something that Thibaut picked up in the game against Tottenham. If it had been vital to play he could but when we had Petr Cech as a replacement it was a no-brainer. Dropped is not a word we would use (about Cahill). It’s a long, long season and we have a big squad of players. We get criticism for not giving young guys a go but I don’t think Kurt Zouma put a foot wrong. A 20-year-old making his first league start and if he carries on playing like that it won’t be his last either.”
What do we make of that explanation?
Sure, Courtois is one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet, but so is Petr Cech as he proved on several occasions on Saturday to keep a lively Newcastle side at bay. As for Cahill’s replacement, highly rated French youngster Kurt Zouma has now impressed on every outing for the Blues and following Holland’s glowing evaluation, he and Cahill could well be the long-term partners at the heart of Chelsea’s defense.
Regardless of Courtois and Cahill being left out for slight fitness issues, their benching will send out a message to the rest of Chelsea’s squad: nobody’s place is guaranteed.
That’s a good mentality to have in a squad as they continue to challenge for four trophies this season and sit two points clear at the top of the Premier League.