Last weekend saw Chelsea's leader and talisman, defenseman John Terry, go down with what looked to be a devastating knee injury. Many at Stamford Bridge gasped as they saw the tough and rugged Captain go down and immediately call for assistance in the first half against Liverpool.
Luckily for the Blues, the results of all of Terry's scans so far have shown only a medial collateral ligament sprain and that he will return to action if all goes well in approximately three weeks.
As Terry was seeking treatment, I began to reflect on how Chelsea was going to deal with the injury as the season progressed. Granted, at the time, I thought it was a much more serious injury than it turned out. But, I felt, at the time, that Terry's injury might allow for others to obtain playing time to either gain experience or solidify their spot in the starting XI in Terry's absence.
I know that Terry scored against Liverpool in the limited time he was on the pitch. I also know the leadership that he provides is invaluable. I am aware that he is the vocal leader of the defense in terms of setting up positioning for others. And Terry often tends to be in the right place at the right time to save the Blues himself on occasion. But, as Terry gets older and with the club's policy of not extending vets more than one year at a time, might this be the time for David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic to truly prove themselves as long-term replacements for the aging Captain.
Cahill has impressed me since he arrived from Bolton last season. The 6'2" Englishman filled in on a number of big occasions last year (Champions League final) and played admirably. He has pace, is physically active, provides offense on set pieces, can strike the ball from distance and tends to be more defensively sound than Luiz.
For my money, I would start him over Luiz every day of the week because of his steady demeanor and his consistency as a central defender.
What should be Chelsea's central defense pairing in the absence of John Terry?
For his national team, the 6'2" Serbian tends to play his natural position, central defender, and that is where I think he should play in Terry's absence. He is steady, and while prone to the occasional mistake or rash foul, he tends to be fairly consistent with his defense and physical play. He also can contribute offensively, as he is a good crosser and wonderful header of the soccer ball on set pieces and on the attack from the periphery.
Luiz, while talented, drives me nuts as a central defender.
For every two steps forward that he takes as a defender, he makes costly errors that force him one step backwards and make Chelsea fans scratch their heads.
When he arrived from Benfica, many felt it would take time for the 6'2" Brazilian to adapt to the physicality and the pace of English soccer. It has, and while putting forth the sublime effort on a free kick or a wonder goal, he consistently drops his mark and finds himself out of position. When in position, he also plays reckless at times, which has led to terrible giveaways and free kicks that have cost the club.
If Luiz sits and the center of the defense is made up of Cahill and Ivanovic, that leaves Ashley Cole on the left and opens the door for new addition Cesar Azpilicueta to get some time on the right side of defense. In his brief time for Chelsea this season, he has also impressed. The young Spaniard seems to have fit in pretty well and can provide overlapping runs to help the offense.
He needs to work on his crossing if he continues to advance forward, but he has proven himself to be a fairly solid right back.
For Marseille, he was highly regarded, and I think he will be the future of Chelsea's right side of defense.
Having the ability to rotate three center backs is a god send for the Blues. With Terry it makes four, or you can ship Ivanovic out to the right side if you so choose. While knowing that Terry will be back in about a month is comforting, there are critical games for Chelsea in that month (Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland) that will not only dictate the rest of their Champions League campaign, but also be crucial to their Premier League hopes (Man City, West Brom, Fulham).
Can the boys in the middle hold up while Terry is gone? I think they can and they will, and Terry's injury will prove to be a non-factor in Chelsea's run to glory this season.