Aubemayang leads Chelsea 2023 sale XI that would give Pochettino’s side a run for their money

Will Ford
Aubemayang Hudson-Odoi Havertz
Aubameyang, Havertz and Hudson-Odoi all escaped Chelsea in 2023.

It’s been a difficult season for Chelsea, but not so much for those who escaped the bin fire of a football club in 2023. We’ve come up with an XI of players who have left Stamford Bridge over the last 12 months and thrived.

By the way, there’s no place for Hakim Ziyech, who’s been flying for Galatasaray of late, or David Datro Fofana, who’s impressed for Burnley. Romelu Lukaku hasn’t made the cut despite his 20 goals for Roma, and Mateo Kovacic also misses out despite his growing influence in Manchester City’s midfield.


GK: Kepa Arrizabalaga (Real Madrid)
Djordje Petrovic and Roberto Sanchez’s respective save percentages of 66.0 and 71.2 pale in comparison to Kepa’s 75.5, which is worse than that of Andriy Lunin (79.3) – who’s pinched his spot in the first team, condemning Kepa to potential infamy as a two-time Champions League-winning bench dweller – but is the fourth best in the whole of La Liga.

Kepa’s PSxG minus goals allowed (a far better metric of assessing goalkeeper quality) score of +2.0 is also significantly better than the two goalkeepers currently vying for their place in Mauricio Pochettino’s team.


RB: Cesar Azpilicueta (Athletico Madrid)
Malo Gusto has provided excellent cover for the perenially injured Reece James, and in Gusto’s absence Axel Disasi, Trevoh Chalobah and Alfie Gilchrist have all filled in admirably. In fact, right-back is one of very few areas of the Chelsea team that hasn’t been a problem this season.

What Chelsea have quite clearly missed, though, is experience and leadership, which Azpilicueta – having played over 500 games for the Blues, winning literally everything in the process – has in spades. He’s played in five different positions in his debut season under Diego Simeone, and that versatility is another rare and brilliant quality Chelsea have sorely missed.


CB: Ethan Ampadu (Leeds)
One of the most experienced 23 year olds in the game, Ampadu’s already racked up 51 caps for Wales and has played in the Bundesliga and Serie A.

He’s really found a home at Leeds this season, playing every minute in the Championship and taking on the captaincy from Liam Cooper in the second half of the campaign after moving from defensive midfield to centre-back.


CB: Kalidou Koulibaly (Al Hilal)
Todd Boehly’s claimed that Koulibaly – one of his favourites, apparently – struggled to adapt to the Premier League as he wasn’t used to “having to run while I think”, which explains a lot.

That’s clearly not a problem for him in the Saudi Pro League though, where his Al Hilal side are unbeaten, winning all but two of their 28 games, conceding just 19 goals with Koulibaly playing every minute since joining three games into the season.


LB: Ian Maatsen (Borussia Dortmund)
It’s come as a surprise to no-one that Maatsen has thrived on loan at Borussia Dortmund, who will surely be in the running to activate his reported €35m release clause given he’s played every minute in the Champions League knockouts on their way to the final and started every Bundesliga game before being rested with the semi-final against PSG in mind.

The obsession with pure profit will undoubtedly win out, but it must be grating for Chelsea fans that the best-performing Chelsea left-back this season a) wasn’t used in the first half of the campaign, and b) is set to play in a Champions League final having been brilliant for someone else in the second half.

👉 An XI of thriving Premier League loanees who should start for their parent clubs next season
👉 Mbappe leaves PSG after Champions League failure as deserved Dortmund eye Wembley retribution


CM: N’Golo Kante (Al-Ittihad)
Cards on the table, we don’t know if Kante’s been any good for Al-Ittihad. He’s got two goals and five assists, but that’s like judging a Michelin star restaurant on the quantity of food provided.

What we do know from his time in the Premier League, is that a fit N’Golo Kante is usually a dominant N’Golo Kante, and having missed 54 games through injury in his last two seasons at Chelsea, he’s started 26 of Al-Ittihad’s 30 league games this term.


CM: Ruben Loftus-Cheek (AC Milan)
Arguably the weirdest sale of last summer as he was one of very few players to come out with any credit last season, showing what we all knew already: that a fit Loftus-Cheek is a very useful player to have around.

Chelsea don’t have a midfielder like him, who can drive with the ball at his feet through midfield, arrive late in the box to get on the end of things, and – crucially – provide a commanding presence in both boxes. He’s scored ten goals for Milan this season, while Chelsea’s midfield trio of Gallagher, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo have scored 14 combined.


RM: Christian Pulisic (AC Milan)
Ten goals and seven assists in Serie A, Pulisic is a man rejuvenated, benefiting – as we all knew he would – from consistent game time.


AM: Kai Havertz (Arsenal)
We thought he would prove to be a marginal gain for Arsenal, and weren’t wrong in the first half of the season as Mikel Arteta attempted to force him into the role vacated by Granit Xhaka, which clearly didn’t suit him.

But Havertz has been brilliant having moved up top for the Gunners, regularly showing the neat touches and hold-up play we saw all too infrequently for Chelsea, with his boundless energy and work-rate vital in keeping them in the title race.

READ MORE: Man Utd being ‘fixed’ and nine other things we got wrong this season


LM: Callum Hudson-Odoi (Nottingham Forest)
Possibly the most grating of all after Chelsea turned down a £50m offer from Bayern Munich in 2020 to watch Hudson-Odoi struggle with injuries and form in the intervening years before his £3m sale in the summer.

He has that rare ability of being able to cut in on his right foot and score goals despite defenders knowing that’s exactly what he wants to do every time he gets the ball.


ST: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille)
Aubameyang was visibly distraught at the 3-0 defeat to Atalanta on Thursday after his heroics in the competition saw Marseille defy the odds to reach the semi-final. He scored ten goals in the Europa League and has 38 goal contributions in total this season, the seventh most across Europe’s top five leagues.

His 27 goals in all competitions puts him behind just Harry Kane (44) among players over the age of 30. When sufficiently coddled, Aubameyang has always scored goals.