Chelsea have a MASSIVE Christopher Nkunku problem

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith
  • 26 Feb 2024 16:10 GMT
  • 4 min read
Christopher Nkunku, Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea, 2023/24

Chelsea, and Mauricio Pochettino, have a massive Christopher Nkunku problem.

Signed for €60 million from RB Leipzig last year, the Frenchman was electric in pre-season and his injury ahead of the Premier League opener against Liverpool was a hammer blow for the Blues.

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In fact, it was so catastrophic that Pochettino abandoned much of his tactical blueprint from pre-season; interestingly, he has still not returned to how Chelsea were playing in the Summer Series.

Nkunku has made a total of just 10 competitive appearances since moving to Stamford Bridge last summer, with only two starts, and he doesn’t look at home in this Chelsea side.

His cameo appearances against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final was very reminiscent of his display off the bench versus Manchester City last weekend - lacklustre.

Chelsea’s Christopher Nkunku problem

Nkunku has looked sluggish in recent weeks, almost as if he isn’t physically up to the level required in England. The Frenchman is yet to get up to speed at Chelsea and while his two goals for the club (vs Wolves and Liverpool) displayed glimpses of his quality, he hasn’t impacted things like many predicted he would.

Against both Man City and Liverpool, he played in a lone centre-forward role and Nkunku flattered to deceive on both occasions. At the Etihad, he made 11 touches, completed just three passes and missed a fairly good opportunity during his 26 minutes on the pitch.

Including extra-time, Nkunku was on the pitch for 53 minutes during the Carabao Cup final and his performance was equally as concerning. He touched the ball 18 times, completed seven passes, lost all five of duels, failed to complete both of his two attempted dribbles and missed another decent chance.

The most worrying thing for Pochettino is that you’d be forgiven for forgetting Nkunku had even played at Wembley - he was that ineffective.

The France international should be the lynchpin of Chelsea’s attack - the heartbeat of their forward line - but he is yet to justify a place in the Blues’ starting XI, despite their struggles in front of goal.

One thing Pochettino must have learned over the past week, however, is that Nkunku doesn’t suit playing up front on his own. Nicolas Jackson is far from perfect, but he occupies centre-backs well and is far more adept in this role than Nkunku at current, especially when Chelsea play against better teams.

Against deep blocks, Nkunku may have a future through the middle due to his movement inside the penalty area, however he hasn’t shown enough to displace Jackson for now.

Despite this, the Frenchman has the talent necessary to become a key player for Chelsea, but he needs to be deployed behind a more natural number nine in order to maximise his ability.

The problem is that Conor Gallagher currently plays in that role for the Blues and the England international is one of Pochettino’s favourites. Furthermore, Nkunku lacks the defensive workrate that Gallagher possesses in abundance and in an attack alongside Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer, Chelsea would suffer out of possession with Nkunku in the No.10 position.

As a result, Pochettino is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the current solution is for Nkunku to be a luxury substitute. Unless the Frenchman proves he is capable of being a reliable option either as a central striker or an attacking midfielder, his Chelsea career is at risk of drifting towards obscurity already.

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