Nkunku set for Chelsea debut months after knee surgery

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Christopher Nkunku will be available to make his Chelsea debut on Saturday, more than four months after a knee injury during a preseason game.

The 26-year-old France forward joined Chelsea this summer from Leipzig, where he scored 58 goals over the previous two seasons, for a reported transfer fee of $66 million.

Chelsea will try to halt a two-game losing streak on Saturday when last-placed Sheffield United visits Stamford Bridge.

“He can be involved,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said on Friday. “That is very good news because being involved tomorrow and being in the squad, he can start also to feel the competition, and to feel the Premier League, and be with his teammates . . . is very good for us.”

Nkunku had surgery after hurting his knee in early August during Chelsea’s preseason match against Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field in Chicago.

“We need now to be calm and quiet because we don’t want to put all the pressure on him,” Pochettino said. “Now he needs to evolve, know the Premier League, know the competition. It’s a big motivation also for us, for his teammates and for our fans to see a player that should be important for us to be in the squad for the first time this season.”

The west London club has tumbled to 12th place after winning just one of its last five games.

Right back and captain Reece James will be out for an extended period after injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Everton. It’s the latest injury setback for the England international.

“For him, it is difficult to accept. He feels very disappointed, very frustrated. Now we need to be careful in the way that we are going to talk, but also assess and try to find the best solution for him.”

Starting goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was also injured in the Everton game and is likely out for several weeks. Djordje Petrovic came on for the Spaniard at Goodison Park.

“It’s a moment for him to step up,” Pochettino said of Petrovic, who joined Chelsea this summer from Major League Soccer club New England Revolution. “We have confidence in him.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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