With the World Cup just over a week away, we pick out the Chelsea players who will have a point to prove at the tournament in Qatar
The 2022 World Cup will get underway in Qatar in just nine days. It will be an international tournament like no other, a unique and controversial festival of football. And there will be much interest for those of a Chelsea perspective with a number of players set to represent their countries.
At least ten members of Graham Potter’s first-team squad will be competing. Some will have starring roles, others will be support acts. Yet the end goal is the same for each player: to become a world champion.
But before all that, there is a full round of Premier League fixtures. Chelsea travel to Newcastle United tomorrow and will be desperate to secure victory after a poor run of form. How easy that will be to achieve remains to be seen; it’s only natural if players’ minds are already on what’s ahead in Qatar.
The timing of the tournament has been the subject of much debate. But what it does offer players is a platform to perform in the weeks leading up to the January transfer window. And there will certainly be those wanting to catch the eye with their long-term futures at their respective clubs uncertain.
Here, we pick out three Chelsea players who can use the World Cup to bring clarity to their futures at Stamford Bridge ahead of a transfer window that is set to be overseen once again by co-owner and interim sporting director Todd Boehly.
Signed on a season-long loan from Juventus on transfer deadline day, Zakaria has been unable to force his way into the Chelsea side on a consistent basis. But that was always likely to be the case, as highlighted by the experience of Saul Niguez during the previous campaign.
It wasn’t until last week’s Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb – a dead rubber for Chelsea, given they were already through as Group E winners – that Zakaria was handed his debut for the Blues. He responded with an impressive 70-minute performance which included a well-taken goal.
The Switzerland international’s second outing came in midweek against Manchester City. He wasn’t quite so influential at the Etihad Stadium, although his ability to break up play on the edge of the Chelsea penalty box was showcased.
Given he is a regular in the Swiss side when fit, the World Cup should provide Zakaria with the chance to play consistent minutes and increase his match fitness. That will benefit Chelsea when Zakaria returns, and it should give the 25-year-old a far bigger chance to establish himself as a genuine option for Premier League matches.
Only if Zakaria does that will Chelsea gain a true read on the midfielder. And given the Blues have the option to buy Zakaria for around £30million, it would be good to get an answer as to whether there is a long-term role for him at Stamford Bridge or whether he is simply passing through.
There will be massive pressure on Pulisic to deliver for the United States in Qatar – and he should go into the tournament fresh, having started just six times for Chelsea this term under Thomas Tuchel and Potter.
That lack of sustained first-team involvement has been a recurring theme throughout Pulisic’s time at Stamford Bridge. Only under Frank Lampard has the 24-year-old been a fixture in the starting XI since his move from Borussia Dortmund was confirmed in January 2019.
Tuchel viewed Pulisic as an excellent game-changer off the substitutes’ bench, and that perception doesn’t appear to have been altered since Potter arrived in September. For a player with Pulisic’s profile – both from a football and marketing perspective – it’s not enough.
It’s why the American has very much reached a crossroads at Chelsea. He will head to the World Cup with just 19 months left on his contract, and his long-term future in west London is uncertain. A strong tournament with the USMNT would go a long way to providing some clarity as to what will be Pulisic’s next step.
It’s not been an easy season thus far for Ziyech. He has made just eight appearances for Chelsea in all competitions, and only two of those have been starts. It’s why the World Cup could prove hugely important for the 29-year-old ahead of the January transfer window.
Ziyech has been reintegrated into the Morocco squad following the departure of Vahid Halilhodzic three months ago. The winger had a bitter falling out with the then-coach last year and vowed that he wouldn’t play for his country as long as Halilhodzic was in charge.
Walid Regragui is now at the helm of the Atlas Lions and is set to give Ziyech – who joined Chelsea from Ajax in the summer of 2020 – a starring role in Qatar. And if Ziyec is able to perform in a group that contains Croatia, Belgium and Canada, it may pique the interest of clubs going into the winter window.
Ziyech explored a move away from Stamford Bridge prior to the 2022/23 campaign getting underway.