The first-team building at Chelsea’s training base in Cobham will be quiet in the days ahead. And while that will enable Graham Potter to firmly settle into his new surroundings, the new Blues head coach would have undoubtedly preferred further time on the training pitches to work with his squad.
Unfortunately for Potter, the majority of Chelsea’s senior players – and countless members of their youth sides – will be travelling around the world to represent their respective national teams. It is the last pause in the club football calendar before the Qatar World Cup, which begins on November 20.
A small bonus is the Chelsea stars who usually undertake long-haul flights across the globe – think Thiago Silva and Christian Pulisic – are set to remain in Europe. Both of the friendlies that will be played by Brazil take place in France while the USMNT are set for action in Germany and then Spain.
There will be only a handful of first-team players who continue to train at Cobham in the coming week – and the majority of those will hope to catch the eye of Potter ahead of what will be an intense October in which Chelsea are scheduled to play nine matches across all competitions. So here is who remains at Chelsea during the international break.
Three years ago, Kepa was Spain’s No.1 goalkeeper. Yet much has changed since that point. The 27-year-old endured a hugely difficult spell under Frank Lampard in which his confidence was eroded and Edouard Mendy was signed from Rennes as a replacement.
Kepa has had to stay patient and play the role of deputy over the past three seasons, but he did feature in Potter’s opening match in charge: the 1-1 draw against FC Salzburg in the Champions League. That was partly because Mendy was ruled out with a knee injury, although it hasn’t stopped him from being called up by Senegal.
With Mendy away from the squad – albeit temporarily – Kepa has an opportunity to develop an understanding of Potter’s approach and build a relationship with the new Chelsea head coach. It will be intriguing to see who starts in goal at Selhurst Park in less than a fortnight’s time.
The 30-year-old has one of the most mentally demanding roles in the Chelsea squad: third-choice goalkeeper. There is very little chance of Bettinelli playing come matchday but he still has to train hard, eat right, prepare thoroughly and ensure he is ready to be called upon if needed. He can’t ever relax.
Now in his second season at Stamford Bridge, Bettinelli is seen as a positive character and popular character in the dressing room. But no matter how he performs in training during the international break, he will know that if Mendy and Kepa are fit, a place in the stands beckons.
Signed in the summer from Brighton in a deal worth £62million, Cucurella is the Chelsea player Potter knows inside out. However, they will get further time together during the international break after the 24-year-old was overlooked for the Spain squad by Luis Enrique.
Cucurella has quickly established himself as a regular starter since arriving at Stamford Bridge, usurping Ben Chilwell at left wing-back but also playing as left centre-back in Potter’s first game in charge. Unless anything dramatic happens, it’s a safe assumption that the big-haired defender starts against Crystal Palace.
Twelve months ago, the academy graduate was riding the crest of a wave. He had broken into the starting XI, scored on his Premier League debut, and played a key role in Chelsea winning the UEFA Super Cup. His start to the current campaign has been far more difficult, though.
Chalobah has only featured once in the Blues’ opening seven fixtures – he started on the right of the back three in the 2-1 victory over West Ham United. For Potter’s opening fixture in charge, the 23-year-old was again named among the substitutes.
There was strong loan interest in Chalobah from clubs across Europe toward the end of the summer transfer window; Chelsea Lens understands that remains with many sides continuing to monitor the centre-back’s situation at Stamford Bridge.
But the international break offers Chalobah a chance to work closely with Potter and his staff and force his way into their thinking for the clash at Selhurst Park.
It’s easy to forget that at the 2018 World Cup, Loftus-Cheek played a good number of minutes as England made their way to the semi-finals. Unfortunately for the midfielder, a repeat is hugely unlikely after a four-year period in which he has had to overcome a serious Achilles injury.
Loftus-Cheek has managed to get back to something close to his best over the past 12 months, although there is a sense among Chelsea supporters that there remains a huge amount of untapped potential within the 26-year-old. Several coaches have tried to unlock it: now it is the turn of Potter.
It was during the second game of Chelsea’s season – the spiky 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge – that Kante limped off with a hamstring injury. The Frenchman hasn’t featured since and was not called up by France head coach Didier Deschamps for their Nations League fixtures.
That will enable Kante to continue his recovery work during the international break. The 31-year-old was back out on the grass at Cobham last week and will be carefully pushed by the Chelsea coaches. Whether he will be able to return against Palace is an unknown, although history suggests he will have to be eased back in no matter what.
Signed from Barcelona on transfer deadline day, Aubameyang spoke of his excitement at working under Thomas Tuchel once more. That lasted just five days as the German coach parted ways with Chelsea are the disappointing defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, the game in which the former Gabon international made his debut.
Aubameyang kept his place in the Chelsea starting XI for Potter’s first game at the helm and will be confident of holding onto his position as the club’s number nine. However, there is strong competition in the form of Armando Broja, who is currently away with Albania.