Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell is set to miss the rest of this year as he waits to find out whether or not he has suffered season-ending anterior cruciate ligament damage.
Chilwell underwent a scan on Wednesday that suggested he may require surgery, but Chelsea are preparing to allow the injury time to start to heal on its own before scanning him again, most probably in the New Year, to determine whether or not he must go under the knife.
Should he require surgery, which currently remains a high possibility, then Chilwell will miss the rest of the season in what would be a significant blow to both the player and the Premier League leaders.
Chelsea are refusing to rush into any long-term prognosis or decision over Chilwell, which underlines how important he is to head coach Thomas Tuchel’s team.
Even in the best-case scenario, the 24-year-old is not expected to play again this year while he hopes the injury begins to heal on its own, which, in itself, presents Tuchel with a big problem.
Chilwell’s Chelsea team-mates are worried he will require surgery and will be ruled out for the rest of the season after watching him jar his knee and roll in agony during the Champions League victory over Juventus on Tuesday night.
Tuchel will have to rely on Marcos Alonso covering at left wing-back between now and January, when Chelsea will assess Chilwell again and the transfer window re-opens.
The German also has the option of trying on-loan midfielder Saul Niguez in the position between now and January, possibly in the Carabao Cup. The Spaniard played there for Atletico Madrid and could be an option for Chelsea.
The situation is a concern for England manager Gareth Southgate, even though Chilwell would return in plenty of time to be part of his World Cup squad this time next year if he misses the rest of this season
England will start to prepare for the World Cup with games in March and then in the summer, all of which Chilwell could potentially miss if he needs surgery. Southgate has Luke Shaw, but left-back is one of the few areas of the pitch where he does not have numerous options.
Chilwell suffered a difficult summer, during which he did not play for England at the Euros, before returning to Chelsea to find himself behind Alonso at the start of the season.
But since winning his place back under Tuchel in the Premier League at the start of October, Chilwell has been in exceptional form – scoring in three consecutive games for club and country, and also netting in the 7-0 thrashing of Norwich City.
Speaking about the possibility of losing Chilwell after the Juventus game, Tuchel said: “It worries me because he was in such a fantastic moment like Reece (James) on the other side. They were in the best shape they could possibly be, so strong, full of confidence and such a lot of quality.”
With Chilwell facing a long spell out, Tuchel is also sweating on the fitness of N’Golo Kante for the Manchester United game after revealing the midfielder was forced off against Juventus with a knee problem.
“He got stronger and stronger in the first half and then twisted his knee a little bit, so, hopefully, it’s not too bad,” said Tuchel.