“Chelsea sweating over fitness of Victor Moses,” is a headline difficult to envisage given the neglect the Nigeria international has endured at Stamford Bridge since signing from Wigan Athletic in August 2012.
Moses, a surprise selection in Antonio Conte’s XI for the win at Hull City on Oct. 1, had last started a Premier League fixture for Chelsea way back in May 2013 but he seized the opportunity afforded him and repaid the Italian’s faith with an outstanding performance in a 2-0 victory at the KCOM Stadium.
Fielded as a right wing-back in Conte’s much talked about tactical switch to 3-4-3, Moses’ pace, passing and work rate on the flank, coupled with a clear understanding of his manager’s revised strategy, earned the 25-year-old a bevy of man of the match plaudits as he stole headlines from goalscoring teammates Willian and Diego Costa.
It wasn’t all good news for Moses, though. He tweaked his hamstring towards the end of the game and was replaced by Pedro, the injury preventing him from joining up with the Nigeria squad during the international break.
Chelsea face Leicester early on Saturday and Conte is likely to persist with the 3-4-3 system that worked particularly well against Hull and in the second half of the morale-bruising 3-0 loss to Arsenal. Moses faces a race against time to be fit.
Such was the stature of his performance against Hull, it would be difficult for Conte not to select Moses for the Leicester match. Unfortunately, if Moses fails to recover, the Chelsea manager has other options available to play as a right wing-back — namely Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro.
It’s a possibility that would be a demoralising blow for Moses, who has seen his career stall since his arrival at Stamford Bridge four years ago. It had all seemed very promising at the outset. After four failed bids, a reported £7 million plus £2m in add-ons had been enough to prise Moses away from Wigan for whom he’d played 74 Premier League games across three seasons, scoring eight goals. Chelsea, then managed by Roberto Di Matteo, had just won the Champions League, and the prospect of European football coupled with a chance to return to London where he’d commenced his career with Crystal Palace must have excited Moses, 21 at the time.
Appearing 43 times and 10 goals, including strikes against Basel in each leg of the Europa League semifinal, made for decent stats in what was a turbulent season at Chelsea, who fired Di Matteo in November 2012 and replaced him with interim manager Rafa Benitez. Despite scoring goals which smoothed the Blues’ path to the Europa League final, Benitez overlooked Moses for the game with Benfica and when Jose Mourinho returned to manage Chelsea in the summer, he was promptly sent out to Liverpool on a season-long loan deal.
Chelsea are often chided about the number of players on their books who get “lost” in the loan system the club embraces over enthusiastically — and Moses certainly went missing. A year at Anfield was followed by similar deals with Stoke City and West Ham United, but the sudden collapse of Mourinho’s empire and the Blues’ rebirth under Conte has provided Moses with a chance to prove his worth. An impressive preseason was enough to convince the Italian to retain his services rather than dispense with them.
Against Hull, with John Terry unavailable and Branislav Ivanovic dropped, Azpilicueta, who signed for Chelsea on the same day as Moses, was deployed as a centre-back by Conte. The Spain international ordinarily plays at full-back and should Moses’ injury rule him out, Azpilicueta is the logical choice at right wing-back. This scenario and another favourable result for Chelsea would make it hard for Conte to change personnel, meaning Moses would be on the periphery once more.
It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances for a first class player. Like Andre Schurrle, Mohamed Salah and Juan Cuadrado, he may look back on his time at Stamford Bridge and wonder if his career might have taken a more positive path had he swerved the obvious temptation of signing for Chelsea.
By Mark Worrall. This article was first published on ESPN.