The Chelsea boss called his injured duo ‘the best full-backs in the world’ when fit and on top form.
Mauricio Pochettino said it would be 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 scans 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 like a bad injury”, although he was unable to put a timetable.
Both players missed a large part of last season through injury, with Chilwell playing 23 times in the league and James just 16, contributing to Chelsea’s worst result in 30 years.
Malo Gusto deputized for James but will miss Monday’s game at Fulham after receiving a red card against Aston Villa.
Marc Cucurella, Levi Colwill and Axel Disasi are all capable of playing at full-back, but no substitute can be expected to bring what James and Chilwell do to the side, according to the manager.
“All clubs miss important players when they don’t play,” he said. “If the question is ‘do we miss him?’ Of course. Reece is a top player and so is (Chilwell). When they are at their best, they are the best full-backs in the world.
“But all teams, when they are missing important players, are affected (in their) performance. Why haven’t we signed another Ben Chilwell and another Reece James? Because there is only one Reece James and one Ben Chilwell.
“If you have one top player in one position in your squad, it’s difficult to bring another one in the same position to sit on the bench. It’s about balance.”
Pochettino could be without up to 11 players for the trip to Craven Cottage, with a long list of injuries compounded by suspensions for Gust and striker Nicolas Jackson.
Jackson is unavailable after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Villa, although Carney Chukwuemeka, who has not played since knee surgery in August, and Noni Madueke could return.
The manager was asked what he thought of Burnley boss Vincent Kompany’s suggestion that players should be restricted in the number of games they can play in a season to protect themselves from injury.
“Maybe there are players who cannot cope with 70 games in a season, but another player can cope with that,” said Pochettino. “The other player can only cope with a limited percentage because the risk of re-injury is huge.
“It’s hard to generalize. We can’t limit players. Players want to play every 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 Jackson’s absence, with Armando Broja not yet ready to start and Christopher Nkunku unavailable until December.
“The most important (thing) is to adapt to the players that are available, try to find a way to play,” he said. “Maybe we can use different features like we can play with one striker or without a striker.
“I have to assess the whole team and make a decision.