Jackson must use Nkunku injury to nail down Chelsea starting spot


Chelsea suffered a lot of problems last season as they struggled through their worst campaign of the Premier League era, but the number nine issue was one that did more damage than most. Without a designated centre forward, the Blues were toothless. This is one area where Chelsea must dramatically improve.

It is therefore unsurprising that the Stamford Bridge club has spent roughly £90m on the addition of two new strikers with Christopher Nkunku the headline signing. The Frenchman left RB Leipzig having scored 70 goals in just 172 games and is the sort of modern forward Mauricio Pochettino will surely enjoy coaching.

Nkunku, however, is sidelined for the start of the new season and that has opened the door for Chelsea’s other new striker to nail down a spot in the team. Indeed, Nicolas Jackson is expected to start up front against Liverpool on Sunday after the Senegalese international caught the eye throughout pre-season.

Signed from Villarreal for £32m, Jackson’s potential is clear. He netted 12 goals in 26 league appearances last season and found the back of the net for Chelsea in pre-season run-outs against Brighton and Newcastle United. His goal against the latter demonstrated why the Blues were so keen to land the 22-year-old.

Operating on the shoulder of the last defender, Jackson raced in behind the opposition defence and opened up his right foot to find the back of the net. Chelsea have lacked a striker in this mould for a number of years. Romelu Lukaku was signed to be this figure for the Blues, but never settled under Thomas Tuchel. Pochettino, however, seems to have embraced Jackson.

“I think he has showed his quality and talent,” said Pochettino after Jackson’s goal-scoring performance against Newcastle United in pre-season. “He is good in front of the goal, very relaxed when he has the chances. He has shown that in the games. I am happy because a striker needs to score to build confidence and trust.

“He was in La Liga, which is also really competitive but he needs sot adapt to the Premier League. The tempo is higher than La Liga, more transitions, be connected with the game. There are many things that make the Premier League one of the best, one of the most competitive, and one is the physical condition.”

Pochettino’s plan was almost certainly to use Nkunku as his starting centre forward at the start of the season and deploy Jackson off the bench and as a rotational option. With Nkunku expected to miss the next couple months of action through injury, though, Jackson will have a chance to prove himself.

Liverpool’s high defensive line will give Jackson to exploit in behind. If Chelsea can gain a foothold in the match in terms of their possession share, they should look to release the Senegalese striker as frequently as possible. Even if Jackson doesn’t score, or come close to scoring, his presence could help pin back Liverpool.

Chelsea have spent much of the summer transfer window trimming their bloated squad. Havertz, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Christian Pulisic, Edouard Mendy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesar Azpilicueta and N’Golo Kante have all departed Stamford Bridge, giving Pochettino a more manageable group of players to work with.

However, Jackson, as one of Chelsea’s new arrivals, could set the tone for the Blues in their first few matches of the season. By the time Nkunku returns from injury, Pochettino might be trying to fit the Frenchman into the same team alongside Jackson rather than as a senior option ahead of the 22-year-old.

Author: Mark Hayes