Over the last few weeks, watching Chelsea has brought a sense of déjà vu. We’ve seen it all before. Chelsea has one win in their last five Premier League matches and from the turn of the year, Chelsea would sit sixth in the form table with seven wins, four draws and four defeats.
As a consequence, Chelsea is limping over the line toward the all important ‘Top Four’ and Champions League qualification and even if they do finish in the top four, they are likely to be as far away from Liverpool and Man City as they were last season.
As a home season ticket holder, it is even more frustrating that Chelsea’s home form is as bad as their away form is good. Eight home wins is equal to Everton and Leicester’s record this season while Chelsea’s eleven away wins is beaten only by Man City and is equal to Liverpool.
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Last season Chelsea squeaked into fourth place at the expense of Leicester by a solitary point on the last day of last season. The season before, a 2-0 win at home to Wolves in the last match of the season ensured fourth place. In 2018-19 Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur to fourth place by one point and in 2017-18, Antonio Conte’s last season, Chelsea missed out altogether, finishing in fifth place, five points behind Liverpool in fourth.
This followed the last time Chelsea won the title, with Antonio Conte, in 2016-17. Chelsea has not looked anywhere near winning it since then.
The question that needs to be asked is why? Is it down to the players, many of whom have been at the club for the last four seasons: players such as Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ross Barkley? Alternatively, do the managers and in particular, the current manager, Thomas Tuchel, bear some responsibility?
Why is it that this current crop of players can rise to the occasion of a cup final or win the Champions’ League but allow the wheels to fall off in the league campaign. Is there a problem with the players mentality or is the quality and depth of squad simply not good enough to win the league currently?
Every single manager, from Conte, Mauricio Sarri, Frank Lampard and now Tuchel has raised questions about squad quality and depth, the player’s mentality and their ability to follow the game plan as directed by the manager.
This is a point that Tuchel made after the frustrating draw at home to Wolves: “In the second half, we reminded the team to stick to the plan, to execute the match plan with more discipline and more precisely, and we were 2-0 up and again we take too much risk in situations where you cannot take this kind of risk… It’s a lack of execution of the match plan throughout the whole half, and we get punished for it.”
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen familiar performances from Chelsea. Possession in the high 70s; shots on target in single digits. Poor quality of final ball, delivery and finishing has been a constant theme this season, not just during the run in.
More alarmingly we’ve seen the return of poor defending, something which has plagued Chelsea for the last few seasons, if you remember Conte’s Chelsea losing to 3-0 at home to Bournemouth and 4-1 away to Watford in consecutive matches. Sarri’s Chelsea contrived to lose 4-0 to Bournemouth and a pitiful 6-0 to Man City in the space of three games. Poor defending plagued Lampard’s tenure at the club, and it was Tuchel’s arrival that not just tightened it up but turned Chelsea in to one of the most impregnable in Europe.
Tuchel seemed to have solved the problem by switching to three at the back to cover up the lack of pace in defence and deploy wing backs to protect the defensive and pace deficiencies of Jorginho. And it worked. Chelsea conceded 10 goals in their first 22 matches in all competitions this season. From the 3-2 defeat away to West Ham in December Chelsea has conceded 38 goals in 37 games; 17 in their last 10 games.
The defensive dip has been blamed on individual errors and there is no hiding from the Opta stat that Chelsea have made 14 errors leading to goals in the Premier League since the start of last season, only Everton (15) have made more. And of course, as Tuchel touched on after the 1-0 defeat to Everton, goals change games, and conceding first to a side who defend with 10 men will make it exceptionally difficult for a side who find it very hard to break them down.
We can analyse all of these issues long and hard and yes, much of this is down to the players, but Tuchel is not blameless and in fact as the manager, has to take ultimate responsibility. In fact there have been mutterings from the media and even some fans saying that he is exceptionally lucky that Roman Abramovich no longer owns the club; if he did then Tuchel might be looking at the sack come the end of the season.
Of course, the media conveniently forget that Chelsea has already won 2 trophies this season; lost out on another by the smallest and unluckiest of margins and have a chance of picking up the FA Cup next week. That would be a good season but the performance in the league, particularly over the last couple of months, is disappointing.
However, to apportion blame entirely on Tuchel would be ridiculous and take no account of nuance and context. This has arguably been one of the most challenging seasons in Chelsea’s history. Come May 22nd, Chelsea will have played 63 matches. Only Liverpool who will have played in every match of every competition they were involved in can match that. Liverpool, however, did not have to travel to Abu Dhabi in the middle of fixture congestion caused by the Omicron Covid outbreak during the winter.
This seemed to affect Chelsea more than any other club as very few of Chelsea’s matches were postponed due to Covid outbreaks. As a consequence, Chelsea played nine matches in December, seven in January and six in February.
If such a heavy workload wasn’t bad enough, Chelsea had to contend with a season ending injury to Ben Chilwell, a player critical to Tuchel’s system as well as injuries to Reece James, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz who had Covid and/or injuries.
As well as losing key players, many at the same time, it deprived Tuchel of the players he needed to play his system effectively, and the back up players for it. At times this season square pegs have been put in round holes out of necessity.
It also meant that other key players could not be rotated or rested. This has seen, in particular, players such as Jorginho, Havertz, Kante, Azpilicueta, Mount, Alonso and Silva played through injury or to the point of exhaustion. Tuchel’s most played outfield players this season have been Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Mount, Silva, Jorginho, Alonso, Havertz and Kovacic.
Not ideal at all and it gives credence to Tuchel’s complaints about player fatigue and considering he warned everyone about this at the start of the season, he is not making excuses after the fact. Added to this, the last couple of months has seen the most unprecedented of circumstances any club in England has ever experienced, with their owner under Government sanctions and forced to sell the club.
Although impossible to quantify the impact that this has had on the team, it is highly probable that the uncertainty and turmoil that this may have caused, as well as the negative impact of a reduced capacity at Stamford Bridge. Furthermore, the ban on transfers preventing negotiations with Rudiger led directly to his announced departure and is likely to have the same impact on Christensen and Azpilicueta. Departures of key players is also likely to have unsettled the squad and Tuchel has said as much.
And if anyone needs reminding, this is not yet a Tuchel squad. Other than the addition of Lukaku in the summer for £97.5 million and Saul on a loan, this is the squad Tuchel inherited from Lampard, Sarri and Conte.
OK, he claimed to be perfectly happy with this at the time, but he now knows what we have known all along. This squad is not good enough to compete consistently enough to win the league. The one hope Chelsea had and the reason why many erroneously tipped Chelsea to win the league this season was the purchase of Lukaku, who has been an abject flop in his role of a supposed 20 plus goal a season striker, as well as disrupting the team unity with the ill-judged interview with Sky Italia released in December.
Many of the squad are a combination and legacy of the teams managed by Conte, Sarri and Lampard; none of whom have been put together by Tuchel to fit in to a system he prefers. Too many square pegs in round holes again.
With hindsight it looks like Tuchel’s remarkable achievement of winning the Champions’ League last season has merely papered over the cracks and faced with the extreme circumstances of this season, even Tuchel’s alchemy has not been enough. It could be argued that Tuchel has worked wonders in winning the UEFA Super Cup; Club World Cup, getting to the Carabao Cup final and the FA Cup final while all but ensuring top four and Champions’ League qualification when considering the difficulties faced this season.
Up until the end of November Chelsea looked like a team that could win the title; from December to March they seemed to ride out the worst the season could throw at them and from April onwards, especially after Real Madrid knocking them out of the Champions’ League the wheels have fallen off. They have simply run out of steam.
Disappointing though finishing 3rd or even 4th might be this season, I for one will not be blaming this on Tuchel. He fully deserves another crack at bringing the Premier League title back to the Bridge. The first thing that Todd Boehly and his consortium must do is offer Tuchel a long-term contract and allow him to implement a plan to rebuild the club in his own way, with his own players, in the same way Jurgen Klopp has been allowed to at Liverpool with the Fenway Sports Group.
With Abramovich famous for sacking managers at the whiff of underperformance no longer the owner, it may be that this is the time for a long-term plan under one manager. Rather than success through chaos, Chelsea can find a way to have success through patience, planning and a long-term vision.
I sincerely hope that Tuchel will be given the chance to prove that he is indeed the man for the job.
Source by Football London