Thomas Tuchel is hopeful Ben Chilwell will not need surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament injury after the Chelsea wing-back returned to light training this week.
Chilwell has been badly missed on the left flank since sustaining a knee injury against Juventus last month and Chelsea are yet to decide whether the 24-year-old needs a season-ending operation. They are waiting until early January to see whether the injury heals naturally and Tuchel is quietly optimistic, saying the club will not rush into signing emergency cover next month.
“Having a look at players and it being possible to get them in winter, there’s a big gap between these two situations,” Chelsea’s manager said. “The best option would be that Ben continues his positive evaluation. He is in a good place mentally and physically. He did some running. Everything looks good, so hopes are still up. But we cannot confirm it.”
Chelsea, who are third before hosting Everton on Thursday, have struggled at the back since losing Chilwell. Marcos Alonso has deputised but Saúl Ñíguez and Callum Hudson-Odoi have not convinced as alternatives. One solution could be to recall Ian Maatsen, 19, from his loan at Coventry.
“We cross the river when we’re at the river,” Tuchel said. “First, we be sure what we do with Ben. We’re still there. Then we decide if we go for internal solutions and if we trust that we can overcome this period. Everything depends on Ben Chilwell and how long he is out.”
N’Golo Kanté and Trevoh Chalobah will be on the bench after respective knee and hamstring problems and Mateo Kovacic will be out of quarantine on Friday.
Tuchel is delighted to have Kanté back. “He is there to scare the Everton bench,” he said. “Every time he stands up and I call his name out. Do you know how often I am [close] to just catapulting him on to the pitch even if he is here at the training ground in the swimming pool or doing a water session?
“He is still in pain and I am asking everyone if he can play the next day, because who wants to play without him? Nobody. We push him but things take their time. If a player feels pain I have learned that it makes no sense to push him.”
Tuchel said Romelu Lukaku, who is yet to start a league game since an ankle injury last month, is still getting used to English football after his £97.5m move from Internazionale.
“We did not bring him to play on special occasions,” Tuchel said. “We brought him in for consistency but like it or not there is adaptation going on.
“If you play in Italy or England it’s a very, very different game. When he was injured we were playing good, we put the intensity level up. We had to find solutions. Then it was about fitness. He was in training and he was protecting himself, not with full trust in the ankle. Even if he would never ever admit, I could see it.”