Chelsea season preview: What will the next phase of Tuchel’s revolution look like?
After all, both of the Blues’ Champions League successes came about only after a midseason change of managers – in the 2011/2012 campaign, it was Roberto Di Matteo who led the Stamford Bridge outfit to the biggest prize in European football after taking over from André Villas-Boas. Di Matteo’s feat was repeated by Thomas Tuchel last season, who only came in midway to replace the hapless Frank Lampard.
Now remember, Di Matteo got himself fired barely half-a-year after his historic Champions League triumph, so if I were Tuchel, I’d be quite worried about keeping my job this coming season. In Abramovich’s world, there’s so little room for failure that even Singapore politician Josephine Teo wouldn’t be able to have sex in it.
With the Champions League already under his belt, maybe Tuchel’s next aim in his Chelsea revolution should be on doing what has never been done before at Abramovich’s Chelsea: Build a legacy.
Thankfully for the German, he has already gotten off to quite a good start by beating Villarreal on penalties to win the UEFA Super Cup.
WATCH: Tuchel happy to win Super Cup, but concerned about fatigue
It helps as well that he can now call upon £97.5m (S$183m) striker Romelu Lukaku to lead the attack, which was arguably Chelsea’s Achilles heel last season. The Belgium international, one of the best strikers in the world at the moment, will go a long way towards soothing the chronic night terrors that Chelsea fans suffer from following a season of having to watch Timo Werner in front of goal.
Werner himself will likely stand to benefit from Lukaku’s arrival. Boasting bags of pace, coupled with his intelligent movement off the ball, Werner is most effective when used as a foil for a target man like Lukaku. As long as his main responsibility isn’t putting the ball in the back of the net, Werner is actually quite a threat in the final third.
When you realise that Lukaku will be supported by not just Werner, but also the likes of Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, and Hakim Ziyech, you can understand why Chelsea fans are salivating at the prospect of an exciting season filled with goals.
But whether or not that will come pass very much depends on how Tuchel sets up his team next season.
Granted, it would be tempting to lean into the immense attacking potential that this Chelsea squad possesses. As the saying goes, if you got it, then flaunt it like an Instagram post of you getting your second Covid-19 vaccination.
Tuchel’s success with Chelsea, however, has been built upon a defensive ethos that prioritises nullifying all opposition attacking intent over attacking verve and flair.
Apart from allowing Willian to join one of their rivals, another way Chelsea have successfully managed to blunt the opposition’s attacks is by setting up in a conservative 3-4-2-1 formation.
It would be fair to say that strategy has worked – in the 30 games following Tuchel’s appointment, Chelsea never really looked vulnerable in defence, and were able to keep 19 clean sheets.
This, however, has come at the expense of the attack. That Jorginho, a deep-lying midfielder, was Chelsea’s top scorer in the league last season with seven goals tells you all you need to know about how unthreatening they were(ner) in front of goal.
The signing of Lukaku will likely change that, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the 28-year-old ended up as the team’s top scorer this coming season. But to get the best out of him, Tuchel will have to forgo some of the conservativeness that made his Chelsea side so hard to beat, and perhaps transition towards a 4-2-4 formation.
WATCH: Tuchel heaps praise on new Chelsea signing Lukaku
The only problem is, Chelsea’s defence on its own are not world beaters. Yes, Thiago Silva is the exception because he is genuine quality. But he is also 36 years of age, and there’s no escaping the evil clutches of Father Time. I fully expect the Brazilian to show signs of his age this season, and he could find himself struggling against teams that attack at pace.
As for the rest of Chelsea’s defenders, they can best be described as a collection of Adam Sandler movies in that they’re…okay I guess? Not great, not totally rubbish, but just…you know, uninspiring.
Antonio Rudiger is, at best, a poor man’s Sergio Ramos. And I’m not even comparing them in terms of their defensive ability, but rather, their history of using MMA moves on the opposition’s key player in a Champions League final.
Kurt Zouma is regarded as dispensable by Tuchel – he’s reportedly been touted as a makeweight in a potential deal for Sevilla defender Jules Kounde – Andreas Christensen has failed to convince, and Malang Sarr is untested in the English Premier League (EPL).
Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta can still play a role in the centre of defence when needed, but, like Thiago Silva, he is already past his prime and no longer the force he once was.
Things look slightly rosier in the full-back positions, with the impressive Ben Chilwell and Reece James likely to cement their status in the starting-11. But beyond that, there’s really only Marcos Alonso who can be considered as a viable option, and that is pretty much the equivalent of me being the back-up to Joseph Schooling at swimming competitions.
WATCH: Throwback to Chilwell's first goal for Chelsea
So, you can understand why Tuchel had to sacrifice his team’s attacking potential to cover up their defensive holes last season. It also goes to explain Chelsea’s interest in Kounde, although it can be argued that they probably need one or two more quality signings in defence to be secure at the back.
Of course, there is still the midfield engine known as N’Golo Kante who can be counted on to protect the backline. But there are suspicions that he is getting increasingly injury prone, and Tuchel can ill-afford to put all his eggs in the Kante basket.
Apart from Kante, there are no other natural defensive midfielders, with Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic operating more as the metronomic figures in the middle of the park.
What all this means, is that unless Tuchel manages to sort out his team’s defensive deficiencies before the transfer window closes at the end of the month, there is every chance that his Chelsea revolution will continue to be a pragmatic, if not dour, affair.
It would be nice if Tuchel unshackles his team and brings out the old ‘I’ll score more than you’ playbook, but knowing how the 47-year-old operates, that is unlikely to happen.
Then again, who’s to say that relying on what has worked so far is bad for Tuchel? If Chelsea pip Manchester City to the EPL title in the coming season – and as things stand, they will probably be the closest challengers – or manage to retain their Champions League trophy, you can bet your HDB flat that their fans won’t care one bit if the football is boring.
WATCH: Chelsea fans celebrate winning the Champions League
Heck, neither Abramovich or Tuchel will care either. After all, legacies are not simply built on entertaining football. They are built on tangible success – and that is exactly what Tuchel will hope his revolution can bring to Chelsea again this season.