Nkunku faces a big challenge to meet the £52m Premier League expectation after Chelsea’s bold decision
The international break has barely started but for many the anticipation of the Premier League’s return will already be high. For Chelsea, the pause in proceedings means they have been forced to delay their building of momentum following a win over Tottenham and a draw against Man City and must start again from cold for their trip to Newcastle in 10 days’ time.
The tone of Sunday’s draw has ensured excitement lingers at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea’s performances against the division’s top teams hinting at the potential Mauricio Pochettino’s side holds. The stalemate perhaps showed the first time, players, coaching staff and crowd became truly united.
While the Blues will hope to force their way up the Premier League table upon its return, what many will be dreaming of is how the team can continue to improve. The possibility of Christopher Nkunku returning only adds kindling to the fire.
Pochettino has teased the star’s return, though stayed clear of solidifying a date. In his press conference ahead of facing Man City he said: “I had a conversation with Christopher and he said to me he wanted to be involved after the international break, against Newcastle. I asked yesterday and he wasn’t as sure, so I told him he is a liar! In a good way, though. I think he’s close and he is doing really well. We are so happy with him in the way that he is doing his recovery. He is very professional.
“Romeo Lavia is also close, they were both training today on the pitch. We hope that next week they will be involved with the team and we will assess day by day to see when they can start to play and help the team.’
The Frenchman in many respects was to be recognised as the jigsaw piece Chelsea had been missing. A move that was almost a year in the making as Chelsea locked down a deal with RB Leipzig and the 26-year-old well in advance of the transfer being announced, shows how important it was deemed for the Blues’ project moving forward.
Nkunku noted after completing the move: “A big effort was made to bring me to the club and I am looking forward to meeting my new coach and teammates and showing the Chelsea supporters what I can do on the pitch. Having played in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, I now want to play in the Premier League, one of the strongest leagues in the world. I am very excited for this challenge and will be proud to wear the Chelsea shirt.”
Having been injured on a pitch that was in far from prime condition, Nkunku has been robbed of an opportunity to play in the Premier League thus far, and too few supporters have had the opportunity to see his talents with his only outings coming in the United States.
Those performances were enough to drive plenty of enthusiasm, including the possibility he could be the Premier League’s signing of the season. Without Champions League football, the Blues had no clear right to secure his signature and it’s little wonder his class stood out in matches against Wrexham, Fulham, Brighton and Newcastle.
His early interactions in the United States showed a quiet confidence, speaking in a whisper but with determination. He said in July that Champions League football “is my goal, the goal of the club, the team and the fans. I want the club to be where they need to be”.
With the Blues still 10th in the Premier League, Nkunku will have to deliver for Chelsea to achieve such ambitions. Despite the fact the forward has yet to play a competitive match for the west London side, it’s difficult to think he cannot help where the Blues have struggled.
His pre-season outings showed a figure who would come alive in and around the box, regardless of how busy the area was. Whether it was a tap-in against Fulham, a smart improvised finish against Brighton, having an impact always looked on the Frenchman’s mind – regardless if he was playing on the left, behind the striker or leading the line. Perhaps he is Chelsea’s perfect weapon to unlock a low block.
He will have competition to prove himself as Chelsea’s best signing given the ermergence of Cole Palmer. However, he arrived at Chelsea in a £52million deal to be the person to change Chelsea’s fortune in front of goal, and showed hints that he could do that by scoring himself and by combining with the likes of Nicolas Jackson.
Nkunku has made himself no stranger to Stamford Bridge and watched matches from behind the dugout in the early stages of the season. He will be keen to soon take steps onto the pitch, as he spends more time working under Pochettino during the international break.
With Chelsea already 10 points behind fourth place, any quest for Champions League will be difficult and many will say unlucky. If Pochettino’s side manage to find success in that ambition, it’s hard to think Nkunku will not have played a role.