The focus was very much on Enzo Fernandez at Stamford Bridge on Friday evening; his £106.7million club-record transfer from Benfica ensured that. There was also intrigue as to how Mykhailo Mudryk would fair on his full Chelsea debut. And how Noni Madueke would perform if called upon from the bench.
Reece James’ return from injury was also a major talking point – and his importance was highlighted by the banners on display in both the Matthew Harding and Shed End ahead of kick-off. There was hope Ben Chilwell would also step back into action after three months on the sidelines.
There wasn’t too much discussion around Benoît Badiashile, however. The 21-year-old’s inclusion at center-back alongside Thiago Silva was a given. His importance to the side was already established despite having played just 180 minutes of football for Chelsea prior to walking out to face Fulham.
Badiashile arrived last month from Monaco. His signing wasn’t heralded as a major coup for Chelsea, nor was his flight over from the principality tracked by hundreds on social media. Yet the £ 32.5 million paid to bring France international to Stamford Bridge already appears a shrewd investment.
Unlike Fernandez – and before him Joao Felix – there was no immediate introduction to the starting XI for Badiashile. He watched the Premier League defeat to Manchester City from the stands and was then only a substitute as Pep Guardiola’s side eliminated Chelsea from the FA Cup. He was also on the bench for the defeat at Craven Cottage to Fulham.
He was given time to settle by Graham Potter, an opportunity to acclimatize. And when selected for the visit of Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge, Badiashile was able to shake off a few early nerves to produce a composed performance. Another followed against Liverpool at Anfield. The goalless draw with Fulham also saw a strong display from the 21-year-old.
“He is a really good guy. Very calm, big quality with the ball, and strong in the air,” said Kepa, whose goal hasn’t been breached with Badiashile in the backline. He is having a great impact on the team and hopefully, we can still go like this [keeping clean sheets]. It’s the job of everybody, we are all trying to impress and defend well. So it is good to work from the whole team.”The influence of playing alongside Thiago Silva can’t be understated. The 38-year-old, a fluent French speaker, has guided Badiashile through matches. It was notable how many times the Brazilian offered Badiashile words of advice during Friday’s goalless draw against Chelsea’s west London neighbors.
“I think he and Thiago have a good partnership; they complement each other well and have a good understanding of each other,” explained Potter to Chelsea’s in-house media. “That is a positive for us because it’s another clean sheet and a defensive performance that was good.”
Badiashile’s composure has stood out in his outings for Chelsea thus far, and that is in contrast to the man he has replaced in the starting XI: Kalidou Koulibaly.
The Senegal international, who arrived from Napoli in the summer transfer window, readily admitted he would need time to adapt to the English game. However, five months into his time at Stamford Bridge and the 31-year-old’s performances, both in and out of possession, remain erratic.
Yet Koulibaly will almost certainly come back into the side for one of the most important games of Chelsea’s season. In a little more than a week’s time, the Blues will walk out at Signal Iduna Park for the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 ties against Borussia Dortmund. There will be no Badiashile.
The Frenchman was not registered for the knockout stage of the competition with Potter and his staff preferring to include Fernandez, Mudryk, and Felix. That was not the wrong decision – how could it be given their respective talents? – but it is unfortunate to be without Badiashile.
A Champions League triumph is often underpinned by the strength of a team’s defense; Chelsea rather emphatically proved that once more on their way to winning the big-eared trophy in 2021. At this moment in time, the Blues’ backline is strong with Badiashile in its heart. They will hope his absence isn’t telling.