Christopher Nkunku’s Chelsea return will steal the headlines – but £58m Romeo Lavia will be equally transformative for Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues

The focus is on the Frenchman as the pair near a return from injury, but Chelsea’s forgotten man can be just as crucial to their success. Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia have endured false starts to their respective Chelsea careers, both struck down by serious injuries before making their competitive debuts in a crushing blow to Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes and plans. Their recoveries have followed a similar trajectory in the months since and, coincidentally, they seem destined to make their long-awaited debuts around the same time.

There has been a disparity, though, in the anticipation surrounding each player’s comeback; unsurprisingly, Bundesliga goal and assist machine Nkunku’s imminent return to fitness has generated plenty of excitement among a fanbase that has been starved of attacking productivity in recent seasons, but Lavia has become something of a forgotten man.

That isn’t helped by the fact that the 19-year-old is yet to even pull on the Blue shirt, but now he is finally on the cusp of making his bow, the £58 million ($74m) man will be determined to remind everyone of what he is all about.

Such has been the length of Lavia’s absence, you would be forgiven for forgetting just what he is capable of. But it takes something – or someone – special to build a reputation and command such a significant transfer fee despite being part of a team that suffered relegation.

Plucked from the Manchester City production line for what seemed like a costly £14m ($18m) just over a year ago, the Belgian emerged as one of the signings of the summer amid Southampton’s struggles in 2022-23.

Demonstrating the precocious confidence and technical ability you might expect of a youngster moulded in the famed Anderlecht and City academies, his evasiveness under pressure, ball-carrying ability and eye for a pass were outstanding.

But despite all of that, he is a defensive midfielder by trade – ranking in the top 15 players in the whole league for ball recoveries per 90 minutes and making more tackles than any other teenager, with 53. Of central midfielders aged 22 or under, he ranked third for interceptions behind only new team-mate Moises Caicedo and Everton’s Amadou Onana, while he also excels in ground duels.


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