Mauricio Pochettino said it would impossible for the club to replace injured pair Reece James and Ben Chilwell in the transfer market as they are “the best full-backs in the world”.
Chilwell underwent a scan on Thursday on the hamstring problem that forced him off in the closing stages of the EFL Cup win over Brighton, with the manager confirming it “looks a bad injury” though he was unable to put a timescale to it.
New club captain James has not played since the 1-1 draw with Liverpool on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, and will not be fit to return before the next international break.
Both players missed significant portions of last season through injury, Chilwell playing 23 times in the league and James only 16, a contributing factor to Chelsea’s worst finish in 30 years.
Malo Gusto has deputised for James but will miss Monday’s game at Fulham after being red-carded against Aston Villa.
Marc Cucurella, Levi Colwill and Axel Disasi are all able to play at full-back but the manager said no deputy can be expected to bring what James and Chilwell do to the side.
“At all clubs, important players are missed when they don’t play,” he said. “If the question is ‘do we miss them?’ Of course. Reece is a top player and (Chilwell) also. When they’re at their best, they are the best full-backs in the world.
“But all teams when they miss important players are affected (in their) performance. Why did we not sign another Ben Chilwell and another Reece James? Because there’s only one Reece James and one Ben Chilwell.
“If you have in the squad one top player in one position, it’s difficult to bring in another one in the same position to sit on the bench. It’s about balance.”
Pochettino could be without as many as 11 players for the trip to Craven Cottage, with a lengthy injury list exacerbated by suspensions for Gusto and striker Nicolas Jackson.
Jackson is unavailable after collecting his fifth yellow card of the season against Villa, though there could be returns for Carney Chukwuemeka, who has not played since undergoing knee surgery in August, and Noni Madueke.
The manager was asked what he thought about Burnley boss Vincent Kompany’s proposal that players should be limited in the number of games they can play in a season in order to guard against injury.
“Maybe there are players that cannot cope with 70 games during the season, but another player can cope with that,” said Pochettino. “Another player only can cope with a limited percentage, because the risk is massive to get injured again.
“It’s difficult to generalise. We cannot put some limit on the players. The players want to play every single game. When it’s a top player who wants to play, how do you say no?”
Pochettino added that he may opt to play without a striker in the absence of Jackson, with Armando Broja not yet ready to start and Christopher Nkunku not available until December.
“The most important (thing) is to adapt to the players that are available, to try to find a way to perform,” he said. “Maybe different characteristics we can use, like we can play with one striker or without a striker.
“I need to asses all the squad and take that decision.”