Roman Abramovich cannot avoid Chelsea warning as Brighton result highlights transfer blindspot – Daniel Childs

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When Danny Welbeck’s 91st-minute header hit Edouard Mendy’s net, the shock was not that Brighton had equalised, it was that it had taken them soo long to do so.

For all of the praise I would happily give Graham Potter, one of the league’s best coaching minds, Brighton coming to the home of the European champions and looking more like an outfit befitting of the “hunters” tag Romelu Lukaku pinned on Chelsea should be ringing alarm bells.

A seething Thomas Tuchel post-game for the first time turned off the charm and upped the confrontation, the first signs of the unrelenting pressure of this job finally cracking through a usually unflappable facade.

The German lamented the injury crisis, with two of his three substitutions on the evening enforced due to players going down.

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It spoke to the level of strain within this current squad that as Andreas Christensen was preparing to come off, Reece James fell to the turf in pain, a moment that shook the Stamford Bridge crowd.

His departure, being helped off by medical staff almost mirrored Ben Chilwell’s ACL injury in November, a moment that has only felt like a sour turning point in a season that looked to be heading in a refreshing direction.

Since then, old frailties have resurfaced to hand a severe reality check.

Three wins out of seven have sent Chelsea tumbling from a place at the top of the Premier League to now eight points behind Manchester City.

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COVID and injuries have undeniably played their part but I am surely not the only supporter feeling a sense of déjà vu.

At the beginning of 2021, Roman Abramovich made a defining call to sack Frank Lampard and bring Thomas Tuchel in. A move that, at the time, hurt supporters but has undeniably proved to be a transformative one.

The German leading the club to a European Cup within four months was astonishing, given Chelsea had not won a knockout tie in the competition for seven years.

That run, added with the final against City gave Abramovich a fast ticket back to the top of European football when for several years it appeared Chelsea were slipping from it.



Roman Abramovich was boosted by Chelsea’s Champions League win

From there, the expectation was that 2021/22 would be the season Chelsea finally competed for a Premier League title again after years of being stuck in a slog for mere Champions League qualification.

For all the doom and gloom after Wednesday night, Tuchel’s points tally at this stage of the season still reflects well on his work. A 42-point haul places him above both of the previous two seasons after 20 games.

Ironically it was his very first game in charge against Wolves almost 12 months ago that was the 20-game mark. A 0-0 draw that day took Chelsea to 30 points, a 12 point improvement across the same period since August demonstrates a clear progression.

Sadly that improvement still only places them eight behind a rampant Manchester City who have replicated what they have done under Pep Guardiola for several years, a freakish ability to pick up speed when it matters most.

Even with the Champions League triumph over them, closing a 19-point gap was always going to be a steep obstacle for Tuchel to overcome in nine months, even with the unmatched confidence gained from a European crown.

The mentality shift of winning glamour European ties to putting away inferior opposition is still something this squad struggles with.

Dropping 11 points from leading positions in the Premier League this season – more than they did in the whole of last season. One of those was away to Liverpool with 10 men but the rest to Burnley, West Ham, Everton and Brighton speaks to a wider issue.

In the transfer window, you can pinpoint areas Chelsea could have invested in over the summer.

Central midfield is the clearest with both Declan Rice and Aurelian Tchouameni the strongest upgrades. Instead, we got Saul Niguez on loan, a player who cannot get in front of half-fit midfielders.

The depth behind Tuchel’s incredible wing-back duo of Chilwell and James has been exposed, with the replacements causing nearly all of the team’s creative expression to be sapped.

I don’t expect much to change from Chelsea’s hierarchy in regards to how they view the structuring of the first-team squad and the consistent vulnerability of the head coach.

Though at some point in the Premier League you feel the penny has to drop, the current model will create chaotic upturns in the form under the right circumstances like an unexpected European Cup, but can it still deliver regular Premier League title challenges?

Domestically it feels like the rules of the game have changed, both City and Liverpool have shown levels of consistency that were deemed unattainable only five years ago.

I have written about the certainty at both clubs around coaching and recruitment, something which feels like a moot point under Abramovich because that’s not the way he operates.

However, Tuchel’s work to make a bit of a jumbled squad assembled under very different coaching minds look like serious title contenders for the first four months of the season is something to applaud. Now, he should be further backed.

2022 should be the year where gaping holes are filled with committed recruitment. A bold new defensive midfield option that intensifies competition and lessens the desperation to keep a lagging N’Golo Kante fit.

Selling what would be deemed “squad fillers” or players who can no longer provide adequate cover to vital positions in Tuchel’s squad.

And also having an awkward reassessment over whether some of the exorbitant attacking spend since 2019 has actually improved our output in the final third?

Arguably for the first time since Mourinho in 2005, Abramovich has a coaching mind with the capability to take his club back to domestic dominance but it borders on a dereliction of duty if he isn’t given the tools like Guardiola has been handed to realise his vision.

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