The greatest opportunity for reserve players to show off their skills and impress the coach is usually during preseason training. This is especially true this summer, when Chelsea’s loanees get more time alone with Thomas Tuchel. The majority of the first-team squad has yet to report to training as they take some well-deserved time off following the European Championships. The Cobham players received some game time last week in a closed-door friendly against Peterborough, and are now in Ireland for a training camp in preparation for Tuesday’s friendly against Bournemouth.
Malang Sarr is one of the names that has gotten a lot of attention thus far. Sarr joined the Blues on a free transfer from OGC Nice last season and embarked on one of the best loan deals in the loan army (Porto). Early in preseason, it was his top-flight experience that made him a talking point, but will he be able to make the squad after just one loan?
Can Malang Sarr make Chelsea’s first team for the upcoming season?
If Sarr makes it, it won’t be as a starter, at least not right now. Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, and Antonio Rudiger, Tuchel’s Champions League-winning three-man defense, are all expected to return next season. Chelsea also still has Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma on their books. Sarr would be at the bottom of the pecking order, but with the Blues competing in six different competitions next season, he’d still see enough of action as a back-up centerback.
The Frenchman’s positional flexibility is one part of his game that works in his favor. Sarr spent time in Ligue 1 with Nice, where he played in both a back three and a back four. In addition to his centerback experience, he has also played some left back. There’s no way of knowing what formation Tuchel will use next season—if he even commits to one—but Sarr’s adaptability is an advantage to any team. This is especially relevant given the uncertainties surrounding Rudiger’s long-term status. If the German is poised to leave after this season due to his contract expiring, Sarr is a possible possibility to replace him on the left side of Tuchel’s back three.
However, there is no haste to integrate the defender. Sarr celebrated his 22nd birthday in January and still has plenty of years ahead of him. However, it’s difficult to dismiss someone with so much expertise so early in their career. Sarr’s performance with Porto last season was hit-or-miss, but his track record in France’s top flight speaks for itself. He was playing with Porto B by the end of the season in Portugal, which sounds dreadful. In the Primeira Liga, though, he was never a reliable performer. In the Champions League, the 22-year-old was preferred (and utilized on a semi-regular basis).
Sarr’s inclusion in Tuchel’s final Chelsea squad is contingent on a number of factors. First and foremost, he must maintain his current level of performance. The defender has had a strong start to the preseason, but slots in the lineup are rarely given to those who come out of the gate with a bang. During the Blues’ friendly, Sarr must continue to impress. His future is also contingent on how individuals in his immediate vicinity do in the aforementioned showcase games. Cobham is a competitive environment, and there are many of defenders vying for that seemingly vacant defensive position in the senior squad. Sarr must stand out from the crowd in order to be noticed.
Finally, the youngster’s immediate future is determined by Chelsea’s transfer policy. The lack of a centerback has been on the wish list for a long time, and the silence has been deafening. Fans may be disappointed, but Sarr will relish the lack of business as he strives to join Tuchel’s club.