Chelsea’s defensive dilemma may have been aided by one of their own following the Blues’ first pre-season match.
Coming out 2-1 victors against Club America in Las Vegas, the Blues looked impressive and were hardly tested at the back, despite an own goal by Reece James meaning that Thomas Tuchel’s side were without a clean sheet on the night.
The German started with three players who were at the club last season in a back three, with Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr making up the defence.
With Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger both departing the club, only Cesar Azpilicueta was an option at the back alongside the three previously mentioned as the Blues went into their first pre-season match.
With Levi Colwill sidelined with an injury, and the 19-year-old’s Chelsea future in doubt, Tuchel used the match against the Mexican side to view an alternative defensive option.
One of Chelsea’s forgotten men out on loan last season was Ethan Ampadu, plying his trade in Serie A for Venezia.
The 21-year-old arrived at the club as a youngster from Exeter and was seen as one of the hottest prospects in English football, often featuring under Antonio Conte.
Despite the Welshman seeing his side relegated, just a year after being relegated from the Premier League with Sheffield United, Ampadu was one of the bright sparks for Venezia.
Making 30 appearances in all competitions, the 21-year-old added to his experience in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig, as well as his first Premier League campaign last season.
He played the third most minutes overall within the Venezia squad, being utilised in both a back three and in midfield for the side.
It was unclear as to where he would be utilised in pre-season under Tuchel, previously admitting that he is happy to play anywhere for Chelsea.
“Everybody just wants to be on the pitch and thankfully I feel comfortable playing in more than one position,” he admitted earlier this month.
“Hopefully I can get onto the pitch this season for Chelsea and help out the side. Wherever Thomas needs me, I’d be happy to play there. I’m more than comfortable playing, whether that’s at centre-back, in midfield or at right wing-back.”
Tuchel opted to use Ampadu in the middle of the back three, replacing Silva against Club America.
The 21-year-old formed an instant connection with Jorginho ahead of him, linking up well and driving the ball forward, often past the Italian before distributing well.
Ampadu showed that he has what it takes to play in the centre of the back three, not looking out of place at the heart of the Chelsea defence.
With Christensen having departed, Silva is the only recognised central centre-back that Tuchel has trusted in the role.
In comparison with the Dane, Ampadu’s 0.5 key passes per 90 last season was superior to Christensen’s 0.3.
It is clear that Tuchel wants his defenders to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, as well as to be defensively aware - something that Ampadu has shown, even against Club America in pre-season.
While Kalidiou Koulibaly has joined the club, it is believed that Tuchel still wants to sign one or two more central defenders to replace their outgoings.
Azpilicueta could find himself on the way to Barcelona this summer, and with Chelsea previously failing in negotiations for Jules Kounde and Matthijs de Ligt, they could turn to Ampadu for a place in the squad next season.
A similar situation arose last summer, where Chelsea previously fell short in their pursuit of Kounde.
A string of impressive performances from Chalobah in pre-season saw Tuchel hand him an opportunity, with the 23-year-old impressing over the course of the season.
The Englishman returned from loan at FC Lorient and earned his place in Chelsea’s squad, arguably with less experience than Ampadu.
Presnel Kimpembe has been linked with a move to Chelsea in recent days, but the defender would likely play on the left of the defence due to his preferred foot, with Kounde likely to play on the right. Ampadu's game time would not be affected, playing through the middle of the three.
Ampadu has gained experience over the last seasons, having had three top-flight loan spells now, learning different footballing cultures across three countries.
He is also a key player in the Wales national team despite being young, operating in defensive midfield.
Tuchel is a fan of players with versatility, perhaps looking for his Chelsea team to be able to play fluid football with both a back three or back four next season.
Ampadu could provide cover not only in defence, but as a deeper midfielder if Chelsea suffer another injury crisis, similar to last season.
It is clear that Ampadu has made his mark on Tuchel already, with the German singling out his performance against Club America.
"Ethan did very well, I think,” he admitted.
“The position is a good position for him in the middle of the back three. He played a lot of vertical passes and did not play left to right only.
"He played through the lines with his passes and dribbles. So he was very active, and it was a good match for him. He is training well.”
While Chelsea will no doubt make another defensive addition, it is worth looking closer to home for squad options.
By no means will Ampadu start every match for the Blues but after three successive loan spells, it could be time to give him a shot in the squad, providing cover for an ageing Silva and an alternative midfield option to allow Tuchel to be more tactically flexible next season.
Allowing a young player to prove his worth as a rotation option, covering and providing competition for the already established world-class start at Chelsea is the way to go next season.
Featured Image Credit: Chelsea FC