The strength of Chelsea’s attack is well-documented, particularly after the £98m capture of Romelu Lukaku, but, as the old cliche states, defences win titles. Indeed, only once in the last four seasons has the Premier League trophy been lifted by a team without the best defensive record in the division.
It’s just as well then that Chelsea have Thiago Silva with the veteran centre back demonstrating his importance to Thomas Tuchel’s side in the 3-0 away win over Tottenham Hotspur. Not only did Silva head home Chelsea’s opener, he made sure Spurs barely had a sniff of goal, particularly after half time.
Silva’s signing two summers ago was made with significant risk attached. While the Brazilian had been one of the best players in his position for a decade, his injury record raised the possibility that he would be a crock for Chelsea. Now into the twilight of his career, Silva has to manage his workload even when fully fit.
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Injuries have sidelined Silva for spells over the last two seasons, but the risk of signing the 36-year-old has been rewarded. When fit, he is as good as any other central defender in the Premier League right now. Manchester City have Ruben Dias, Liverpool have Virgil van Dijk, Manchester United have Raphael Varane and Chelsea have Silva.
As the centre piece in Tuchel’s back three system, the onus is on Silva to hold things together in defence for Chelsea. It takes a special player to handle all that comes with this role, but the communication and organisation skills of the Brazilian makes him a natural leader.
Of course, it helps that Chelsea also boast one of the strongest midfield barriers in the European game with Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic preventing Tottenham from bursting through the centre of the field. Had this not been the case, Silva’s relative lack of pace against the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min might have been exposed.
But in this Chelsea team, playing in Tuchel’s system, Silva provides his team with a platform. He harnesses others while being protected himself. Chelsea are playing with perfect balance at the moment and Silva, who played the full 90 minutes after featuring for just seven minutes against Zenit St Petersburg during the week, is the starkest illustration of this.
He made three tackles, seven ball recoveries and six clearances, more than anyone else in blue on the pitch. On top of this, the Brazilian also won four aerial duels, including one that led to the opening goal of the match. Silva even had more touches in the opposition box (five) than Kane (two).
“His performance, even in the first half, was outstanding,” Tuchel said afterwards, praising Silva for the manner of his display and for the way he took his chance for the first goal. The German coach, of course, knows Silva well from their time together at Paris Saint-Germain, but the 36-year-old is arguably playing his best football for a number of years.
Having taken 13 points from their opening five fixtures of the season, and with trips to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur already out of the way, Chelsea have the look of Premier League title frontrunners. They are a complete team capable of playing in different ways and will take some stopping.
Silva’s man of the match display against Spurs was a reminder to those who have focused on Chelsea’s strength in attack of where their most fundamental quality lies. If the Blues are to get their hands on the Premier League trophy this season, Silva’s contribution will be just as crucial as anything produced at the other end of the pitch.
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