Vision 2030 is a plan devised by Neil Bath that involves scouting and buying some of the game’s top young talents, both to create a wave of players capable of filling the gaps in the first-team and to push the youngsters who come through Chelsea’s academy onto bigger things. Buying players for this plan already took place in the summer with the signings of Gabriel Slonina, Cesare Casadei, Carney Chukwemeka, and Omari Hutchinson. Todd Boehly has shown no intent to slow down this Vision, with the Chelsea owner already agreeing January deals for Molde Striker David Datro Fofana and Vasco De Gama Midfielder Andrey Santos.
Chelsea’s Vision 2030 has five main targets:
for 15% of their Premier League minutes to be from Academy players
for 25% of their first-team squad to be from the Academy
to have above national average GCSE and A Level results
to have more Academy players in the professional game than from any other Academy
to win more national and international competitions than other academies
To achieve this, Neil Bath and Jim Fraser will be given a set budget and freedom to buy players for this purpose and in this article I’ll speak about 10 players currently playing in Academies across England that we should target (most we have been linked to by credible journalists but others are just wishful thinking).
The first player on this list is Arsenal Prodigy Ethan Nwaneri, a player who has already made his Premier League debut at the ripe old age of 15 against Brentford back in September. Ethan is at the age where players receive scholarship offers and with no news on whether he has accepted one at Arsenal, clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City are circling. A left footed midfielder who is physically strong and has bags of technical ability, he is considered to be the best U17 talent in the country at the moment and would be a major coup for the Vision 2030 plan.
The next player I’m going to talk about is a current teammate of Ethan at Hale End who is also coming up to scholarship decisions – Myles Lewis-Skelly. He was at Cobham at a young age but made the change to Arsenal later on. Myles is an all action midfielder who is also being fast tracked through the age groups just like Ethan in order to convince him to stay. An unnamed youth coach once said that Lewis-Skelly was the most “outstanding” prospect in the academy, alongside Ethan Nwaneri. In fact, he went on to claim that the 16-year-old is as naturally talented as Nwaneri. Myles has the ability to play in that deeper role as well as more advanced and regularly takes players out of the game with his impressive ball carrying ability and regains possession with his athleticism and football IQ.
Harris is a Welsh attacking midfielder from Fulham who possesses a very good goal threat from midfield. The 17 year old has scored 6 goals in 5 games at PL2 level this season, including a Hat-trick against a Chelsea side that included Chalobah, Ampadu and Chilwell. He is already a regular for the Wales U21 side and was taken to Qatar for the experience. On top of this. he has made a handful of Prem appearances for Fulham this season and due to signing his first pro contract this summer he’s one of the more expensive players on this list but still a deal I’d keep an eye on.
We’re now going to jump across to North London to discuss the15 year old attacker Mikey Moore. Born in 2007, Moore has featured regularly for Spurs U18 and UEFA Youth league side, making him one of the 10 youngest players to play in the competition. Moore is also an essential part of the England U16s team that consists of Chelsea Striker Shim Mhueka and Chelsea target Chris Rigg, regularly popping up with goal contributions. Rumoured to have been offered a scholarship at Manchester City and Chelsea, it remains to be seen if the winger’s future lies at White Hart Lane.
Triston Rowe currently plays at Aston Villa, having joined them in the Summer of 2021 from their rivals, West Brom. The versatile defender has been a standout performer in Aston Villa’s academy this season, even making his PL2 debut at the age of 16 where he managed to pick up an assist as well as making a few appearances in the EFL Trophy. The England Under-16s international has long been on Chelsea’s radar having played for his country at the youngest age groups.
Tezgel has, just like many others on this list, been followed by Chelsea for a while now, as well as the rest of the top clubs around England, but so far, he has decided to stay at Stoke and develop. A natural finisher at every level, he made a name for himself in the Under-18 side at Stoke, scoring 19 goals in 34 appearances last season and he has 7 goals in 10 games for England U17s side. Due to the variety of goals he scores as well as his technical ability and frame, the striker of Turkish descent has drawn some comparisons to Harry Kane.
Ishe Samuels-Smith is a Left-Back that currently plays at Everton. He’s following in the footsteps of another young driving force who used to play LB for Everton in Thierry Small. Ishe is highly regarded as one of the best young left backs in the Academy game, an issue that Chelsea has had for years, which has recently been addressed by the additions of Zak Sturge from Brighton. However, during the summer, we came close to getting Ishe to sign a scholarship at the Bridge, but he decided to stay at Everton for the time being. With him still performing to a high level and Chelsea’s past interest, I think this is a deal that may reappear.
Now let me have a bit of fun with this one. Carlos Borges is a left winger that plays for Man City and is one of the most electrifying players I have seen at any level. Carlos has bags of pace and flair with goal contributions to back it up with the 18 year old racking 16 goals and 11 assists in just 18 games this season. He is the only player so far to not be linked to Chelsea, but as Simon Phillips recently said, we are monitoring Academy Talent from City in the hopes of convincing them of a better pathway at Cobham. On top of this, his contract expires in 2024, and there’s no sign of a potential first team debut in the near future for him, so there might be a small chance.
In my opinion, Kobbie Mainoo is the best young player currently at Man United with the ability to play all 3 roles in the midfield to a high standard. He progresses the ball well through both his dribbling and passing ability which helps his game in an offensive sense but also has insane agility which helps him not only avoid tackles but cover ground and regain possession for his team. The 17 year old looks comfortable against any opposition he’s put up against and has a really bright future ahead of him. Again, like Borges, there have been no links to Chelsea so far, but a deal I think we need to make if we’re serious about signing the best talent around.
The last player I’m going to speak about is one of the lesser known players on this list. Jimmy is a left-footed winger who plays for Southampton, who has 5 assists in 6 games at PL2 level this season and has been in and around the first team already at the age of 16. He is part of a resurgence of academy talent at the Saints such as Tyler Dibling, Dominic Ballard, and Jayden Meghoma, any of which I would gladly take at Chelsea. Again, he’s not been linked yet, but due to our good relationship with Southampton shown through academy Goalkeeper Eddie Beach, the aforementioned Tyler Dibling and Director of Recruitment Joe Shields, something could get done.
Thank you for reading my first article. As you may be aware, there are hundreds of players on the Vison 2030 list so if you want me to do a Part 2 make sure to let me know, and yes I’m well aware that some of these names are very unlikely to happen but we can only hope.
Thursday was a busy day on Chelsea Twitter, as fans were blessed with a double ‘Here we go!’ from Fabrizio Romano. Continuing the trend set by the summer purchases of Carney Chukwuemeka and Cesare Casadei, Chelsea are set to further bolster their army of U20 talent with the additions of Andrey Santos and David Datro Fofana for a combined €32m. While many are excited by the Football Manager-style prospect of a Chelsea dominant for years into the future, others are quick to point out the need to address the less-than-ideal actuality facing Graham Potter’s disjointed and underperforming squad.
A bleak run of form just before the World Cup has left many Chelsea fans under a dark cloud of negativity, growing increasingly frustrated with the ownership of Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali. Many criticise the bulldozing entrance which saw them rip up the entire internal structure of the club, culminating in the sacking of Thomas Tuchel, who was so greatly adored by the Chelsea faithful. These events seem to have generated a widespread view that the new ownership is out of its depth, lacking the necessary knowledge to cut it at the top level of football. Any action now comes under immediate heavy criticism, and fans are questioning the signings of youth players amidst the need for ready-made reinforcements. However, in moments like these a bit of level-headed objectivity can go a long way. While Chelsea are in need of first team signings, we also have to appreciate the work being done to rectify the lack of sustainable progress the club has made over the last five years. The establishment of solid, long-term foundations for success is, really, incredibly exciting, and it is important to remember what Boehly & co have come here to do.
Also on Thursday, a month-old interview with co-owner Behdad Eghbali surfaced on Twitter. Encouragingly, it confirmed the ambition that many of us had seen in the new ownership, with Eghbali again displaying a desire to establish a multi-club model. It was interesting to see the Chelsea man reiterate the inefficiency he sees across many clubs in Europe, highlighting the opportunity for clubs to be more optimally and sustainably run. In fact, he explicitly states that Chelsea ‘was not terribly well managed on the football side, sporting side or promotional side’. He goes on to speak about the Red Bull model, citing their ‘50 to 100 million a year profit in player sales’ and underlining the importance of ‘using data […] and a cohesive global structure’ in order to ‘produce a winning product’. Indeed, Chelsea themselves have already entirely restructured their board, bringing in the ex-Red Bull technical director himself, Christopher Vivell. He brings his multi-club expertise to a team of Joe Shields, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, four specialists replacing Marina Granovskaia who, in theory, previously carried out the jobs of all four. Already, you can see the optimisation mentioned by Eghbali is being put into place, ready for the January transfer window. Logically, bringing in some of the best in their fields should prevent Chelsea from continuing to make the wrong decisions, squandering millions on failed signings and missing youth development opportunities.
It may not be immediately clear how a multi-club model would do anything other than expand the assets of the Clearlake enterprise. Fortunately for the fans, both Eghbali and Boehly, in an interview dating back to September, have emphasised the model’s role in player development, allowing Chelsea to present their youth players with reliable pathways to the first team. See following from Boehly’s interview:
‘The challenge at Chelsea is that when you have 18-, 19-, 20-year-old superstars, you can loan them out to other clubs, but you put their development in someone else’s hands. Our goal is to make sure we can show pathways for our young superstars to get onto the Chelsea pitch while getting them real game time. To me, the way to do that is through another club somewhere in a really competitive league in Europe. […] What we really need is a place to put our 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds to develop them, in Portugal, Belgium or somewhere like that. Get them the (GBE) points they need and also get them out of South America and into Portugal, which is a perfect example, we think, and then to get them on the pitch for Chelsea.’
This really is nail on the head from Boehly. How many times have we seen talented Chelsea youngsters either stagnate at a poor loan, or force a permanent move away for their own development? Just look at the progression of the likes of Marc Guéhi, Jamal Musiala and Fikayo Tomori since leaving the club. What might have been for Callum Hudson-Odoi had the right structure been in place for him to maximise his potential in his favoured position? How did Billy Gilmour go from starting regularly in the Premier League under Frank Lampard, dubbed the ‘Scottish Iniesta’, to being sold by the club for a measly £9m? I could go on and on, but the point is that Chelsea have grossly mismanaged the abundance of talent produced for years at their very own training ground. For Boehly to identify this issue publicly and accurately, and present us with a convincing solution, must inspire confidence. His mention of Portugal as a facilitated entry point for young Brazilians displays his knowledge of the task at hand and might provide a hint as to the eventual destination of Andrey Santos. Regardless, it’s clear that Boehly and Eghbali are extremely ambitious with their plans for Chelsea, and that the new owners are committed to the prolonged and sustainable success of the club.
As mentioned above, many fans seem to have difficulty getting excited about this, still hurt by the ruthless sacking of their beloved Thomas Tuchel. While understandable, some perspective needs to be applied here. The truth is Tuchel never displayed a desire to develop the young players at the club. Instant success was always prioritised, hence his blocking of Hudson-Odoi’s Borussia Dortmund loan to keep him as wingback cover, amongst other questionable decisions. Even with the new ownership in place, Tuchel had the power to break the cycle. Yet, after less than one week of Chelsea’s pre-season tour of the US, Tuchel sent home Billy Gilmour and Harvey Vale, neither of which seemed to have imminent loans lined up. Meanwhile, the likes of Ross Barkley, Michy Batshuayi and Kenedy, all entering the final year of their contracts, remained. Apart from the glaring mismanagement of the squad from the previous board, leaving these players under contract and on a never-ending cycle of unproductive loans, Tuchel must be held accountable for his decisions. Both Jorginho and N’golo Kanté were entering the final year of their contracts, and Billy Gilmour had shown the ability to perform as a 6 at the highest level. Academy Player of the Year Harvey Vale had the potential to provide effective squad depth in the attack, where both Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech were heavily linked with moves away. Yet, Tuchel preferred to keep the deadwood in the squad. It was difficult to understand, and decisions like these are simply not compatible with the new direction of the club. Boehly himself has made this clear:
‘The reality of our decision was we just weren’t sure Thomas saw it the same way we saw it. No one’s right or wrong, we just didn’t have a shared vision for the future. It wasn’t about Zagreb, it was about the shared vision for what we want Chelsea Football Club to look like. It wasn’t a decision made because of a single win or loss, it was a decision made about what we thought was the right vision for the club.’
Emotion removed; this makes sense. Now, under Potter, we are seeing the likes of Charlie Webster, Omari Hutchinson and Lewis Hall training regularly with the first team. This isn’t a token gesture, it’s because they are good enough to be there. Under previous managers, that fact hasn’t always been enough. It’s crucial that these players are given the time to grow in and around the first team set up, rather than being given one five-minute cameo, under all the pressure in the world, before being thrown back to the academy and deemed below standard. It’s also essential that the manager is allowed the time and space to do this, as seems to be the case currently. In his latest press conference, Potter stated:
‘I met up with Bedad (Eghbali) and had a good chat. I’m even more confident, more aware of the support I have now than I was three months ago. That tells you something. It’s a credit to them and their support. It’s been fantastic. […] We all know the pressure and the demands at Chelsea, but we have also got enough people who can see the perspective. I’m really looking forward to the weeks, months, years ahead.’
This is extremely encouraging, and it truly looks like Chelsea are finally going to be backing a manager for the long run. Part of doing this is accepting the bumpy ride that is part and parcel of the process – things are not always going to be perfect. Potter’s press conferences and general demeanour leave plenty to be desired, and the new ownership certainly didn’t handle their first transfer window particularly well. There is no doubt that improvements must be made. But, like most successes in life, you need to endure the difficult times first. If we have to play Europa League football next year, so be it. It’s proven to be an extremely effective competition for player development. Choose to see the positives. The same fans calling for Potter’s head will have mocked Arteta as a useless manager after Arsenal’s three straight losses at the start of last season, now silenced as the north Londoners sit top of the table, 19 points ahead of Chelsea at the halfway point. It’s like selling your Bitcoin stocks during the March 2020 dip, before seeing it skyrocket over 1000% into 2021. Don’t be that guy. Have some patience, have some faith. At the end of the day, this is the direction the club is going in. As a fan, why not be excited? Why not support your club, your youth? I promise you, in good time, we will be back.
In our latest episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Paree (Owner – @CFCParee) was joined by Rob (Admin – @CFCRobL), Peter (Guest – @23Pankovski) and Sam (Guest – @CFCCentral3) on a Twitter Space to discuss the harshness of Tuchel’s sacking, where his downfall began and the inevitability of this happening under Boehly, Graham Potter’s adaptability to a bigger club from Brighton and so much more!
3 games into the 2022/2023 season – and we’re already in crisis mode. A victory against Everton, a draw against Spurs and an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Leeds has put the Chelsea fanbase into absolute chaos.
It’s pretty important not to overreact to the loss and make things too complicated talking about the formation etc because this time last week, we were absolutely thrilled after the performance against Spurs. The massive issue is that most fans knew that this sort of performance wouldn’t be replicated the next game, despite an away game at Leeds being a really important one for Chelsea fans.
I think there is so much to talk about at the moment, so that is exactly what I am going to do. Pretty much discuss any thoughts I have on most players in the squad, as well as some of Thomas Tuchel’s decisions. It’s going to be a long one.
I don’t think anyone can doubt that Mendy has struggled to reach the level he was at in his first 12 months at the club where he was crucial in our Champions League victory. The first 35 minutes pretty much summed up his last 24 months at the club – started off brilliantly and was distributing it with ease, and then a stupid error mucked it all up.
I think goalkeeper mistakes hurt the fans the most because they are so unnecessary and although it is quite cliche, you can just kick it out if you are feeling the pressure. The mistake against Real Madrid which arguably cost us the tie and Leeds’ antics are both unacceptable.
Yet, I’m still not too worried about Eddie. Look at one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Alisson and the number of similar mistakes he made last season, and you realise these things happen. No-one can convince me that if you gave Kepa 15 games in a row he’d make less mistakes. Maybe not with his feet, but he won’t be making the saves which Mendy makes on a regular and the ones we take for granted. I’m quite sure of it.
Trev now needs to leave the club. He’s now another victim of some really weird treatment from Tuchel in the last 6 months. The situation is really reminiscent of Tomori’s departure under Frank Lampard, where no one actually knows what is going on behind the scenes.
After watching Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz up top, people have finally started to see the issues with Tuchel’s treatment of Tammy Abraham. And yet somehow, I think the recent treatment of Chalobah is worse due to how good he was last season.
Chelsea STILL haven’t lost a game in normal time (two penalty losses against Liverpool) in which Trevoh has started for Tuchel, and that is an incredible record. I don’t doubt that mistakes were creeping in last season and Tuchel had the right to drop him, but then when he returned into the team against West Ham United he played brilliantly and was still dropped the next game.
On top of that, Andreas Christensen was ahead of Trev in the pecking order who was having his stomach pains and Azpilicueta had signed a deal with Barcelona to join them this Summer which eventually collapsed. Instead, the academy product who wanted to stay at the club, was put on the bench. It makes no sense.
I understand he has had a meeting with the club and Tuchel very recently. I suspect those discussions will eventually lead to the departure of Trev this season, but whether it’s on loan or a permanent deal remains to be seen. I suspect it could be similar to Callum Hudson-Odoi’s situation where the club pretty much refuse the player to leave permanently, and so they have to go out on loan to settle for some first team minutes.
I just think it’s a massive shame because I do believe he would’ve taken being a first choice backup in all three centre-back positions like he was for most of last season, but it does look like Silva, Azpi, Reece, Fofana, Koulibaly, Cucurella and maybe even Ampadu would be ahead of him to get minutes. He also could’ve been used in midfield crises like we had yesterday, but for whatever reason the trust with Tuchel seems to have broken down completely and he needs to be playing Premier League football for his career.
I love the guy, everyone loves the guy, but why on earth is he still at this club? It was absolutely perfect timing for him to move on this Summer and him getting a move back home in Spain, but instead we offered him a two year deal and he decided to stick around.
I didn’t have much of a problem with him staying to help with the transition of the new owner, but everyone knew as soon as he signed that deal he was going to get minutes. I just worry his downfall will be very similar to Ivanovic’s at the club, as we certainly saw glimpses of this coming last season.
When playing he certainly causes more issues than solves, and they’re much more obvious to see when you look directly at him during the game. He isn’t comfortable enough on the ball anymore and is often beaten in behind. It’s gutting because him staying has pretty much meant that a better and younger talent in Chalobah will be leaving the club, but there’s not much we can do at this point. Dave is here to stay.
There isn’t much to say about Thiago other than he is still a very classy centre-half. He doesn’t do much wrong and still makes some really important interceptions and tackles.
Although, I thought I’d bring up a discussion which I haven’t completely made my mind up on. I was watching the Chelsea U21s against Wolves two weeks back and it’s been bugging me since…
I wonder if Silva’s lack of athleticism is a massive reason for why we can’t go into a four at the back that often during games? I do think the midfield profile is a much bigger issue, but when watching a lot of teams playing a 3 man defence, the central centre back likes to push forward into midfield or make those line breaking passes which we don’t really see from Thiago anymore.
Ethan Ampadu in pre-season was an excellent example of this, Trevoh Chalobah would be able to play this role perfectly with him doing a very similar thing in the academy under Jody Morris, and dare I say it someone like Declan Rice could excel in this sort of role.
It’s not that big of an issue, but something I thought I’d bring up…
I’m really not going to go into the Senegalese that much. There isn’t much to say. He will turn out to be an excellent signing and at a good price. It was a stupid red card against Leeds especially for someone of his experience, but he’ll learn from it and I’m sure he won’t make the same mistake again. Next.
It is so frustrating the way we’ve dealt with Ethan over the last few years, and it looks like we could be messing with his career once again due to not being quick enough in the transfer market. Some awful loans, some very late decisions and not being given good enough chances in pre-season has led to him only having one proper good year of football since the academy days.
This time it was different though, or at least what it felt like. He was arguably the most impressive player in pre-season and with us looking for so many centre-halves it made total sense for him to be given a similar role to Malang Sarr’s last season. On top of that, playing in defensive midfield for Wales should’ve increased his chances of staying even more.
Unfortunately, so far it looks like him getting minutes in this Chelsea squad is going to be really unlikely and he hasn’t even been given a squad number yet! With the World Cup in just over a few months, he’ll be desperate for minutes and it’s why I suspect he’ll be pushing for a move on a loan or permanent basis in the final few days of the window.
On the other hand, I can see the club refusing this and forcing him to stay. It would be a massive shame for his own development but with Chalobah going out and Fofana coming in, I imagine they’ll want to keep Ethan around. If he can pick up Malang Sarr’s minutes I don’t think he’d complain either…
So, this upcoming weekend’s game against Leicester could be a massive signal for him. If he starts at LCB, there’s a good chance he will stay being backup to Koulibaly. But, if it’s what we all suspect and Cucurella is on the left hand side of defence, the Welshman should be pushing for that move instantly.
We gave our thoughts on Cucurella’s signing in a recent podcast episode, which you can listen to here, but I’ll summarise what I’m thinking so far.
Look, I’ve got no doubt he’s a very good player. £65m? That is an absurd price for a little bit of competition and a stopgap for Chilwell’s return to full fitness when you have one of the best academies in the world and are sending Ian Maatsen on loan to the Championship for the second season in a row.
I think people are really forgetting how important Chilwell was to our system beforehand and that was because he was such a reliable player and always did the job. He’d put in a 7/10 in most games and that’s all we needed from him.
In the end, I do think Cucurella could do that job and it isn’t my money so I can’t complain too much. But those funds certainly could have been used elsewhere and in much better use in my opinion…
Zero complaints about this boy. I’m ready to go as far as saying he’s our best player in the squad. He is THAT good.
RCB or RWB? I’ve got no issue with him doing either. He is absolutely excellent in both positions, and Tuchel’s following quote from last season is something most fans would agree with:
“I would love to have two Reece James’ to have the problem solved!”
– Thomas Tuchel
I imagine if/when Fofana comes in, it will solve a lot of the problems and he’ll finally be able to cement himself at that RWB position. When he’s been at RWB previously, it’s heavily relied on the RCB moving the ball quickly to Reece and when that has been Azpi this has been an issue. When he’s been at RCB, it relies on Ruben at wingback having a strong game and you never know which Ruben you’re going to get (so far this season, very good).
Fofana comes in and you have a centre-back who’s very strong on the ball and will allow Reece to attack with a bit more freedom. They’ll easily be able to switch with each other during the game – something which definitely isn’t possible currently and it should open up a few new things.
There isn’t much else to say that we have produced a future Chelsea captain and we must do everything to get him to sign a new contract.
Ruben is an extremely useful player in this squad and I’m pretty happy with the role he’s playing in this squad, and I think he is too (on top of a very high wage which he wouldn’t receive elsewhere).
I still remind myself of his football under Maurizio Sarri as a number eight and how good he was. He was dribbling past players for fun, but most impressively getting those goals and assists. We haven’t seen that in this system, and that’s something we can’t blame him due to playing a much deeper role in midfield and wingback being something very new to him.
I’m absolutely fine with him being our backup wingback, and he’s more than good enough to get a good number of minutes in midfield. It’s hard not to think what the likes of him, Conor and Mason could do as number eights in midfield and he’s a massive victim of this formation, but it’s something we’re going to have to live with for now.
I’m going to be very straight with you and it is just my opinion – he is absolutely not good enough to be starting for us weekly in the Premier League and hasn’t been for a while. It’s a massive shame he’s having to play so much at the moment due to Kovacic and Kante’s injuries because it’s costing us badly.
You’d surely think the player who was voted the third best footballer in the world would be able to help a young Conor in midfield and use all the space they had against Leeds? Wrong. They were both pretty awful and it was definitely where the game was lost.
Look, if you like him, you like him. If you don’t, then you don’t. You have definitely made up your mind on him by now. I love the guy, but really do not rate the footballer. He simply isn’t consistent enough, and I just don’t think he’s good enough for the Premier League.
He’s in the last year of his contract and this is where things get interesting. He’s clearly captain of the club when Azpi isn’t playing, so in that sense I would not be shocked at all if he’s offered an extension of one or two years and Chelsea try and get a fee later. Realistically, the only club who would be interested in him in the world is Juventus so let’s just hope they pick him up one window or another.
Very happy with Mateo and has turned out to be an excellent signing. I have always rated him as a footballer but did have my precautions at times, but I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong. He needs to stay injury-free though!
Another player who needs to stay injury-free! The Spurs game was a reminder that he is still one of the best midfielders in the world when fit, but it just never feels like we can get 5 games in a row for him. He’s set to be out for another few weeks and let’s just pray that’s the last one before the World Cup.
He’s also in a similar situation to Jorginho where he’s getting older and is in the last year of his contract, so I also suspect he’ll sign an extension or a proper contract. No way Todd Boehly lets both Jorginho and Kante leave on a free next Summer.
There’s a lot of discussion around Conor at the moment – and rightly so. He’s in a really sticky situation.
The World Cup in December will absolutely be ringing in his mind and if he wants to make that squad, he’s going to need proper gametime in the next two months. Whether he gets that with a heavy Chelsea schedule upcoming is the massive question he has to ask himself.
He’s another casualty of Tuchel’s system and it’s very obvious to see it doesn’t suit him at all and that’s not his fault. You have to remember that this is a player who stood out in an extremely struggling West Brom team, and the following season was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League at Crystal Palace where he picked up so many goals and assists under Patrick Vieira.
He has played in this pivot role before, and I still think he could do a job there. In the same way you didn’t overreact to Koulibaly’s poor performance against Leeds, you’d be silly to completely dismiss Conor after his poor showing too.
Phil (@chelseayouth) in the above tweet summarised it pretty well. I do actually think Conor would be a bit more comfortable in the attacking role where he can win the ball back higher up the pitch and has a larger license to lose the ball. But, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. Someone said to me that against Leeds Tuchel had Mason and Conor playing in the complete opposite roles and I cannot unsee it now.
I think he will end up staying and that’s as a result of Kovacic and Kante’s injuries. If you asked me a week ago, I’d have said he was going on loan again with the international competition in mind. Still some days for that to change…
Who? Who is Billy Gilmour?
Something which Tuchel clearly has been saying to himself in the last few months. The Scottish international has become the forgotten man, and no one really seems to care which is frightening. It’s actually really scary.
It’s also ridiculous. I have zero doubt he would have done a better job than both Conor and Jorginho in midfield against Leeds. Something is clearly not right as he wasn’t even involved in the U21s game where the fringe players such as Ampadu, Chukwuemeka, and Chalobah all featured in for match fitness.
I think people forget – this is a player who was really impressive under Tuchel over a season ago and that included a MOTM worthy performance against the best team in the world (Manchester City) which even got unprompted praise from Antonio Rudiger afterwards!
Yes, his loan at Norwich was awful. Yes, he didn’t look that good in the academy pre-season games I watched. A lot of that is due to a complete loss of confidence and it’s up to Tuchel to get that back for such a quality player. It does not look like that is happening.
It’s pretty obvious, but Billy does want to leave the club permanently although I think he’ll only get a loan since we’re so late into the window. He HAS to make the right move, and perhaps he needs some belief from a manager like Frank Lampard to get his career back on track.
I’ve got a really bad feeling he’s going to be chucked into the U21s in a few weeks if he doesn’t leave on a loan this window. I have no problem with him playing the odd game here and there to keep his fitness levels up but is he absolutely good enough to get minutes for the first team and shouldn’t accept anything less.
I was told that Tuchel convinced him to join the club by telling him he would get first team minutes with Kante and Jorginho’s “age” and injury proneness. If I’m being honest, I’ve seen nothing so far which suggests to me that this is even close to being the case.
We have to remember this is a player who we have plucked from a Premier League side and is more than good enough to play in the division, so putting him on at Half-Time two days ago wouldn’t have been as ludicrous as it may sound to some. He suits the pivot really well and would’ve been able to keep the ball and move it quickly.
Time will tell what happens with him. I did find it quite interesting that Tuchel mentioned all the midfielders in the post-match conference and didn’t say Carney, but maybe that’s just me overreacting a little. Ideally, he gets a Premier League loan, but I can’t see that happening and if you want to watch him then I’d start turning up to Kingsmeadow as much as you can!
I have zero issues with Mason. In fact, if you have a massive issue with Mason, then I have an issue with you. Just like Reece, another player we should be begging signs that six year deal.
I lied. I do have an issue with Mason. It’s the way Tuchel uses him:
And that tweet pretty much summarises it. Mason Mount is a midfielder. Why on earth is the highest player on the pitch against Leeds after putting in an incredible performance versus Spurs in a left midfield role?
Mason’s a culprit of being a very technical and intelligent player and as a result is played out of position (and just like a lot of the other Cobham boys). I worry this is turning into a Jorginho slander piece but compare that to Jorginho who due to his multiple limitations we are having to play a system which doesn’t suit about 7 other starters.
‘I’ve played midfield my whole life. I’ve varied between playing a bit more forward in a No.10 position but I always kind of see myself as a No.8.
I’ve definitely got a range of longer passing in my locker and you can bring that out more when you’re playing in that deeper No.8 position. I do like that [central] role. It allows me to build up play with the ball and also get forward and join the attack.’
Mason Mount (November 2020)
I do get he has inconsistencies but so does Reece. They are both still quite young players in the Premier League and we’ll see the best of them very soon. Getting thrown around and being asked to do hundred things at once does not make life any easier for him yet he cracks on and doesn’t complain once. Him and Reece have to dominate Chelsea FC for the next 10 years.
I’m personally not a huge fan of the player, and I’m certainly not a fan of his dad’s antics on Twitter.
I’ve gathered that Tuchel has pretty much told him that he’s only seen as a super sub for the Blues, and I don’t think that’s gone down too well. I’m not sure how much Pulisic can do about it though with there not being too much concrete interest in him from other clubs!
He’s a pretty inconsistent player, and I still haven’t really been able to figure out what he’s quite good at exactly. Under Frank, he was dribbling past players for fun and seemed to enjoy that freedom, but he hasn’t had any of that under the German manager and just loses the ball most of the time. His movement off the ball is pretty strong but we don’t see him in the box as often and our style of play isn’t that direct for him to be effective at all.
It is probably best for all parties involved if he was moved on quite quickly.
Another player who needs to disappear from this club ASAP.
He’s been useful for us at times in the last two years with him turning up in some massive games and getting a few key goals, but I understand he has massively fallen out with Tuchel and is desperate to leave.
His attitude on the pitch is pretty poor with him complaining all the time and just destroying any attacks by shooting whenever he gets bored. It’s a shame because there’s a good player in there and a profile we don’t have but he doesn’t fit the system at all and needs to depart.
He seems to be the talking point at this time of the season every year. He’s often been at the end result of quite a lot of hypocrisy from managers – and it was ever so clear with some more quotes from Thomas Tuchel.
As you can see from the first quote, I do think Tuchel massively rates Callum as I’ve never seen him say such good things potential wise about Pulisic or Ziyech for example.
But you can only reach your potential if you play football. That is a fact. You have to be allowed to make mistakes, and even more for someone like Callum, you have to be able to express yourself and not be worried about losing the ball once or twice.
The third quote is worrying because he is telling Hudson-Odoi he needs to keep on fighting, and yet he fails to give him any chances to do the fighting in the first place. Not coming on instead of Ziyech who is about to leave the club is absolutely disgraceful (in fact, what’s even worse is Ziyech was on a flight from Leeds to Amsterdam just an hour after the game to try and finalise a return to Ajax).
He does want to leave and I understand originally it was on a permanent basis, but the club refused and a loan looks much more likely with him desperate for first team minutes. There are so many clubs interested in the winger from England and abroad, so hopefully he makes the right move and we get an update in the next few days.
Personally, I’d send him to Southampton on loan. I think he must stay in the Premier League as him performing well will bring up media attention and it will be screamed at Tuchel right in his face. Look at the way Gallagher has been involved in the first team compared to Ampadu when they both had similar loans?
I feel for Kai, and I also don’t. Realistically, he hasn’t really shown anything in the two seasons he’s been here and a lot of the “hype” around him is still very much based off what he did in the Bundesliga.
But how much can we really blame him? He’s playing most of the time with his back to goal which simply doesn’t suit him, but he also faces a massive issue of no-one really knowing his best position: whether that’s as an 8, a 10, a false nine or an out and out striker which is the current role he’s playing.
Tammy struggled under Tuchel, Lukaku struggled, Havertz has struggled, and nothing suggests to me a new forward won’t do the same. Yes, he misses chances, but I can tell you we don’t create enough for him. He can do a lot more for himself and make life easier, but I refuse to put everything on him for now.
He’s been really frustrating and seeing him not really improve compared to the likes of Mason and Reece has been disappointing, but he’s still very young and we can just hope things somehow get better.
I unfortunately think the inevitable signing of Aubameyang will force him out of the club, at least on a loan deal.
It has been very difficult to tell where he lies in Tuchel’s mind with him being quite injured in pre-season and in training recently. On that note though, you do have to remember this is a player who Tuchel couldn’t give assurances to and was set to join West Ham permanently until something drastically switched.
Whoever was advising Armando was completely going down the wrong path in my opinion (and it’s also a shame Tuchel couldn’t convince him to stay originally) as he was so close to leaving despite being second choice striker to Havertz, which eventually would have led to quite a few minutes in blue. He honestly wouldn’t have had to do too much to get a starting place in the team, if Tuchel was to play on merit that was.
Like I said before though, it’s very clear we want a forward or two and I can very much see Broja end up at Everton with them desperately looking for someone of his profile. It would also make sense with Anthony Gordon coming the other way…
And on that note, we are finally onto the final discussion. Thomas Tuchel. The Gaffer.
All I’m going to say is we desperately need a Director of Football, and quickly. Let Tuchel do the coaching and just give him a set of players to work with. That will work a lot better than him trying to get involved with this transfer business – although I fully understand he has to at the moment with a new owner and the likes of Marina & Cech leaving the club.
Aubameyang – it just screams Higuain 2.0 doesn’t it? A player who was once good for the manager coming back and trying to show what they can do. When you have Broja, I really don’t see the need for this signing. Two years ago, I was all for Pierre, but I do wonder if his time has gone and whether people have actually watched him at Barcelona.
Midfielder: Tuchel has slightly lost the plot on this one. I fully understand him not being able to switch to a four at the back with us not having a defensive profile in midfield, but to then go and say we don’t need a new midfielder is ludicrous.
The numbers are certainly not an issue, but the profiles are. Also, I’m not having the excuse of him playing up to the media because this time last Summer he was screaming for a midfielder and ended up with his choice Saul, and he also has spent the last two months publicly pleading for defenders (and rightly so).
Anthony Gordon is just an odd signing. I do quite like the player and think he would bring something to us, but in absolutely no way different to what someone like Hudson-Odoi or Gallagher would be able to do in the attacking role, or even someone like Hutchinson after a year or two of coaching. A £60m price tag is pretty crazy too. 100% see it finalising later this week though.
I mentioned it enough times in our recent podcast episodes, but dropping Harvey Vale and Billy Gilmour to the U21s in pre-season to “maintain training levels” was another example of some terrible management. I honestly cannot be asked to rant about it again, so please do have a listen if you have the time.
And we’re finally done…if you’ve made it this far – wow, and thank you. There’s a lot to talk about the moment and naturally you’ll have different opinions so please do send them to my personal account or tag us on @TheChelseaSpot!
And then there were two. After Timo Werner followed Romelu Lukaku out of the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, Chelsea were left with two genuine options to lead the line next season – and even that might be generous. Kai Havertz comes into this season with an underwhelming 12 goals in his 57 Premier League appearances to date, and this term is joined by 20-year-old Albania International Armando Broja. Of the two, only Broja can claim to be an archetypal number 9, with Havertz’s strongest position a mystery to all, and questions are being raised about the German’s capabilities as a centre forward after an anonymous showing at Goodison Park to begin the 2022/23 season. So, can Chelsea realistically secure another season of Champions League football with a roster of centre forwards with a combined 18 goals in their fledgling Premier League careers, or do the Londoner’s need further additions?
Broja caught a lot of attention from fans of his parent club when he bagged the sixth league goal of his debut season (on loan at Southampton) against Spurs in February. The academy graduate had been one of the revelations of the season, and his physical performance against Manchester United in his next outing – notable for bullying Maguire with his strength and movement – only added to the hype. However, the rest of the campaign passed without a goal for the Slough born forward, with many Chelsea fans wondering whether the club would decide to cash in on a young asset following a promising breakout season in order to help fund another summer spending spree. However, interest from West Ham and Everton never materialised into a bid and so the youngster was given his big break: starting a season for Chelsea with a realistic expectation of bagging 1500 or more minutes of competitive football.
Kai Havertz is in many ways the opposite of Broja. The German was bought in for a then club record fee, as opposed to being nurtured in Cobham from an early age, he was slight and technical, not physical and fast and he had the biggest clubs in Europe jostling for his signature when he touched down in London. Landing Havertz was seen as a major coup – many wondering if pandemic affected finances had enabled Chelsea to beat off the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to his signature – however Havertz has never really settled. A long-COVID affected first season finished in the most memorable fashion possible: scoring the winning goal in a Champions League final. Whilst that strike has written his name into the club’s history, the former Bayer Leverkusen man has yet to justify his fee. 5 goals in a 5-game stretch in the league in March and April seemed to be a turning point for Havertz, however six blanks and a series of costly misses against the likes of Manchester United and Everton to cap off the campaign left an underwhelming feeling lingering.
The departure of Timo Werner could result in this becoming a make-or-break campaign for his compatriot. No longer will Werner’s hapless finishing take the majority of the headlines, with the spotlight now shining on the under-performing Havertz. Ever since breaking through as the youngest ever debutant in Bundesliga history, Havertz’s talent has been abundantly clear. However, he is yet to prove to the Stamford Bridge faithful that he has what it takes to cut it as a centre forward at the top level. His frustrating propensity to drift through games without making any noticeable impact has also become a bone of contention with fans. Now the undisputed starting number 9 following Lukaku’s departure, it is up to Havertz to take his chance.
Early whispers suggested that Raheem Sterling could fill in as a false nine in Tuchel’s favoured 3-4-2-1 system, flanked by Mason Mount and Havertz. The season opener seemed to provide weight to this argument, as first Havertz and then substitute Broja often drifted left to create space for Sterling in the middle. While Sterling threatened for the first hour of play, and had a goal ruled out as well as a goal-bound effort brilliantly blocked, Havertz was anonymous. Although his movement may have assisted Sterling, it was not a style of performance fitting his enormous potential and price tag. His languid style is often mistaken for a lack of passion but here he did himself no favours with a mere 23 passes attempted the lowest of any of Chelsea’s outfield starters, illustrating his struggles at getting a foothold in proceedings. His most notable moment was a weak header into Pickford’s gloves from a first-half freekick. Broja was a bundle of energy when he came on, but bar one lovely turn he was unable to really affect the game, often left alone out on the left-hand flank.
All of these questions over the two youngsters prompt the question: are they good enough centre forward options to secure a top-four berth? The answer to this is hard to ascertain currently. Although neither has had a long career, both seem to score goals in spurts before going on a drought and Havertz famously is unable to hit top-form until after Christmas.
However, what is certain is that early investment from Boehly and co. suggests that Chelsea are building a side to be successful right now. The purchases of 27-year-old Sterling and 31-year-old Koulibaly are two examples of large sums being spent on players in their primes. Havertz and Broja could potentially need another season or two to acclimatise to the demands of leading the line for a top-6 side in the league, and even then they might not be of a title-winning level (think of the influence Drogba and Costa had on successful Blue’s sides of old). Sterling and Koulibaly are two extremely ambitious players who will have been promised a push for silverware from day-one, and so it is likely that the new ownership group will look to supplement the youthful attack with a sure-fire goal scorer at centre forward.
Herein lies another problem: there is a startling lack of talent on the market in this position. Clubs are having to take risks to secure players in the number 9 role. Think of West Ham’s £30.5 million purchase of Gianluca Scamacca. The Italian was initially wanted by top sides including PSG, however he seemed to be running extremely hot in Serie A, scoring his 16 league goals from an expected goals (xG) rating of 11.13. West Ham were willing to bet on the 6’5 striker carrying on his lethal finishing touch in a new, faster-paced league, but had to part with a considerable chunk of change to secure their man. Tried-and-trusted marksmen are in such short supply that Barcelona plunged themselves into further financial peril with the €45 million acquisition of soon-to-be 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski.
This all suggests that Chelsea find themselves looking for a proven scorer at just the wrong time. Two names heavily linked have been out of favour Barca duo; Memphis Depay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. These two names understandably won’t have Chelsea fans salivating the way Lukaku and Erling Haaland did last summer. The former is a Premier League flop who has always been injury-prone and the latter captained hated London rivals Arsenal, and is 33 years old, a player very much entering his twilight years. Juventus have moved for Depay in the past day, leaving just Aubameyang as a rumoured target for Chelsea.
Gabonese forward Aubameyang actually hit the floor running in La Liga last season. Joining in January – after being sounded out as a disruptive presence in a young and impressionable Arsenal dressing room – he hit 11 goals and laid on an assist in just 17 league appearances, working out as a very impressive 91 minutes per goal contribution. This compares favourably to Chelsea’s current options: Havertz contributing a goal every 165 minutes of league action last term, Broja every 330 minutes. Interestingly, a lot of Aubameyang’s best work comes from drifting towards the left-hand flank, potentially dove-tailing nicely with Sterling in Tuchel’s system. Although the years will begin to catch up with him, much like Jamie Vardy, Aubameyang has maintained his blistering pace into his thirties, which will be another weapon for Chelsea as well as replacing a loss in explosive speed in the squad following the sale of Werner.
Although this paints a rosy picture of what Aubameyang could bring to Chelsea, it is worth pointing out the glaring drawbacks to such a deal. Disciplinary actions have plagued the forward’s career, which could cause issues in a youthful squad where he will be one of the senior heads. Chelsea also traditionally avoid signing players with no sell-on value and although that approach seems to have been eschewed with Sterling and Koulibaly, signing a 33-year-old forward with a patchy injury record would definitely be a risk. Large wages may also be an issue, with contract talks already beginning with Mount, Reece James and Edouard Mendy, and the new board won’t want to risk alienating these players waiting to sign on the dotted line.
Tuchel has known Aubameyang since his Dortmund days and got more out of him than any other manager in his career to date; impressively helping him to the top-scorer award in Germany ahead of the previously unstoppable Lewandowski in 2016/17. The German manager is playing a big part in Boehly’s recruitment drive and has previously stated multiple times that the focus is on winning now rather than building for the future (hence his stance on Colwill departing on loan). The pair of them will have to decide what is best for Chelsea, whether that means compromising long-term success for the short-term or not. In Havertz and Broja, Tuchel has two of the most talented forwards in England. However, Havertz may not be suited to a centre forward role and might benefit from dropping into a deeper role, whilst Broja needs a season or two of regular playing time before he can be viewed as a title-winning forward. Bringing in a win-now replacement in Aubameyang may hinder the development of the aforementioned pair, and there is no guarantee that it will end in success. But these are the tough decisions that Boehly will have to get used to if he is to fill the hefty boots of his predecessor.
Chelsea kicked off their 2022/23 Premier League campaign on Saturday with a trip up to Merseyside to face last season’s survival specialists Everton. Chelsea have been busy in the transfer window already, securing three lucrative signings with Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Marc Cucurella coming through the doors at Stamford Bridge. Thomas Tuchel has also hinted that they are not finished with their business, and are looking at more players to sign the dotted line. And so with the start of a new season, and Chelsea officially underway in the new campaign, I’m going to give my not-so-expert opinion on how we fared against the Toffees.
Our back three.
New signing Koulibaly was alongside veterans Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta, and immediately settled into his new role. The Senegalese international looked immensely comfortable in the Chelsea backline, winning challenges, interceptions and headers, whilst finishing the game with 88% passing accuracy. Kali was superb in his Chelsea debut, and his future certainly looks bright.
Not only was KK immense, I thought Captain Azpi was impressive too. With 90% pass accuracy, four tackles and one interception, the reliable Spaniard looked great in his first match since penning a new two-year deal at the club.
But the real strength was Thiago Silva. The man is ageing like a fine wine and is easily playing the best football of his career. Not only is his footballing ability something to be impressed with, but the fact that he turns 38 next month really takes it for me. He has been outstanding since his move to Stamford Bridge, and Saturday’s performance proves he is by no means ready to slow down. Four clearances, one blocked shot, three interceptions and one tackle, along with the Man of the Match trophy secures a definitive strength for Thiago Silva.
Our attacking play.
Chelsea lacked a threatening end product for a lot of last season, and unfortunately it carried over to Saturday’s game. With 15 shots, and just six on target, the Blues looked lethargic and uncreative all game. There was glimpses of magic from Sterling on his debut, but the Englishman struggled to turn anything into a clear cut chance. The same goes for Mason Mount, who only managed one shot on target. Kai Havertz was also well off the tempo, and was struggling against Everton right back Nathan Patterson.
Chelsea also had 16 corners to Everton’s four, yet made very few of them count. It looked as if Chelsea just had no real game plan, along with Everton playing very defensive, with Gordon and Gray waiting for the counter opportunity. Abdoulaye Doucoure forced Mendy into a fantastic save, which was Everton’s best chance at an equaliser.
Despite the penalty, Chelsea just created very little, and this will need to change in order to get anything against Spurs next weekend.
I thought Reece was brilliant, with the right back successfully suring up Chelsea’s defence. Not only that, but his attacking play just gets better and better. Despite the corners frequently hitting the first man, I thought Reece barely put a foot wrong. RJ’s crosses are deadly, and with the right man on the end of them, we could score some serious goals. The problem is our attackers rarely give him the opportunity to whip those crosses in.
Three clearances, one interception, one tackle, and 92% pass accuracy helps prove my point that the wing-back had a great game. If only we had someone who could get on the end of the crosses, we would be laughing.
Generally an underwhelming performance.
Despite the victory, Chelsea just seemed off the pace on Saturday, with the aforementioned lack of creativity, as well as a lack of flair and determination. The Toffees failed to force Chelsea into any mistakes, and this made the Blues secure the victory with ease, but with a huge lack of effort. Performances of this standard will get us by against the weaker sides in the league, but when we come against the other big six teams, we could be in for a painful season. I said it in the TCS season predictions that will be out on the site soon that I think we might struggle this season, but hopefully I’m proven wrong.
Chelsea don’t give out long-term contracts to players over the age of 30. At least that’s what we thought. With Roman Abramovich’s 19-year reign coming to an abrupt halt this summer, it seems that their may be a shift in transfer policy under the stewardship of the Boehly-Clearlake consortium.
The Londoner’s were once famous for a lack of sentimentality. Club legends John Terry and Frank Lampard were left waiting every season to find out whether their stay at Stamford Bridge would be extended by a year. Ashley Cole and David Luiz were disposed of in blunt fashion as their desire for long term deals could not be satisfied by the club. In fact, over the entirety of the Abramovich-era, only one outfielder seemed to break the one-year-contract-to-over-30s rule: Willian. The Brazilian finished the COVID-hit 2019/20 season in fine form, helping drag the Blues to a top-4 berth. His efforts were rewarded by a 2-year contract extension being placed on the table, only for Arsenal to tempt Willian away with the promise of an extra year on top of that…we all know how that turned out.
All of this brings Koulibaly’s rumoured 4-year contract into context. It could be deemed a risky move by new ownership, handing out lucrative deals to players the wrong side of 30 is widely considered dangerous. Years of clocking up 40+ games leads to player’s being more effected by little knocks as well as losing a yard of pace. However, with captain Azpilicueta potentially joining Rudiger and Christensen in the departures lounge at Heathrow this summer, it was important for the new owners to act decisively to shore up a thinning back-line. Many fans would have preferred it if the Senegalese centre back arrived when he was perennially linked with the Blues in the late-2010s (something the man himself commented on when arriving at his new club), however this is a story of better late than never. With a full pre-season ahead to get used to the demands of Tuchel’s new system, the £31 million signing could prove to be astute come the end of the season.
Koulibaly will bring experience, leadership and quality to Chelsea’s backline. The Senegalese defender is not an aggressive defender with insane tackles and interception numbers (averaging a combined 2.5 per 90 minutes of league action since 2020/21) but a high-level reader of the game in the ilk of Virgil Van Dijk (1.4 tackles and interceptions a game last term). The two are both 31 year of age and will both play a huge part in their respective side’s title aspirations next season, so long as they can both stay fit and healthy.
A glance at Koulibaly’s injury record could be a cause of concern for overly cautious Chelsea fans. The centre back missed a combined 19 league games through 6 separate muscles issues over the previous 3 seasons. The worry might be that with age these issue will only get worse, with each knock keeping him on the side-lines for a longer period than before. However, there is a perfect case study to quench any injury fears over Koulibaly in Thiago Silva. The timeless Brazilian himself missed 20 league games through 5 separate ailments between the ages of 28 and 31 (2013-2016). Since arriving at Stamford Bridge, however, the fan favourite has sat out of only 8 league matches (just 1 last season), despite edging closer to 40 years of age. The mixture of careful game management and world-class injury prevention staff have enabled Silva to play on at an incredibly high-level despite being previously labelled an injury-prone player. There is therefore reason for optimism when it comes to Koulibaly and his future at the club.
There are a couple of other factors working in Koulibaly’s favour when it comes to making a seamless transition to life in England. The African Cup of Nations Champion is confident speaking both English and French, which will help him communicate with a backline comprising of speakers of both the former (Chalobah, James, Chilwell) and latter (Mendy, Silva, Azpilicueta). He also has prior experience playing alongside Jorginho at Napoli, where the two were close, a relationship which could be vital when swiftly playing out of the back from centre back to tempo-setting holding midfielder – a vital part of Tuchel’s system.
Finally, this move could be looked back on as an exception not the rule in ten years’ time. Tuchel is under immediate pressure from new owners to demonstrate that he can close the gap on the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. Chelsea’s demand for centre backs is huge and bringing in a world class defender for only £31 million who also offers the leadership – as captain of his national team – to offset that lost by the potential departure of Azpilicueta is a quick fix to what was becoming a huge issue. Now another one or two centre backs look set to follow Koulibaly through the door at Stamford Bridge, before potentially a new number 9 to replace the outgoing Lukaku. It is one thing purchasing a 31-year-old defender in a back three system which, as proved by Thiago Silva, does not require blistering pace to function. It is a whole other ball game to stock Tuchel’s midfield and attack with ageing talent, such as Ronaldo or Lewandowski, who would struggle to adapt to the aggressive counter-pressing demands of the system, the same issue that Lukaku was unable to solve last season.
Tuchel, who has a large part to play in recruitment until a director of football is found, will feel that the qualities that Koulibaly brings to West London outweigh the negatives of his age and injury record. For the first time in decades, Chelsea are putting their faith fully in a manager, in the style of Liverpool and Manchester City with Klopp and Guardiola respectively, believing this to be their best option at closing the gap on these two elite sides. The German manager has made a gamble in straying from the buying young players with huge sell-on potential model (Havertz, Pulisic, Hazard etc.) of the Abramovich era and now needs the results to justify him doing so. If all goes to plan, maybe seeing veterans of the game pitching up at Stamford Bridge on sizeable contracts may not be so rare in the future. Until then it’s up to Koulibaly to impress and show that age really is just a number.
Without much knowledge of the opponent and their players, the assumption that this would be a complete turnover was not the case. A well fought battle between two well matched sides, both operating in 3 at the back systems. The first match under Mark Robinson showed sprinkles of promise, with an attack heavy approach and intense pressing after losing the ball. However, it is hard to grasp a coaches style from one game in a pre season friendly.
The first half started with Chelsea pinging the ball around and Gilmour controlling from his deep lying playmaker role in the Chelsea 3-4-2-1 system. The 2nd minute saw Dion Rankine pick up the ball, glide past one man and take on another down the wing before blasting it low into the goal, catching the opposition goalie out and making the score 1-0. Dion Rankine looked a constant threat and was being fed through balls consistently for the first quarter of an hour. More Chelsea domination followed and culminated in Tino Anjorin shielding the ball before using the studs of his boot to turn and leave two men in the dust. He got forced out wide and then unleashes a powerful shot from a few yards outside the box that went whiskers wide. The first 20-25 minutes was all Chelsea and it honestly looked like with a few more shots, it could be a battering. Then out of nowhere, a good throw leads to a through ball that caught Josh Brooking out and Tyrone Mondi blasts it past Ted Curd into the roof of the net making it 1-1. Around the 35th min, Tino Anjorin set off on an outrageous run, showcasing his dribbling and physical stature. Chelsea lost their grip towards the end of the half and couldn’t regain the control they had in the first 20 minutes.
The second half came with 11 substitutions, going into the half with Beach, Abu, Gilchrist, Tauriainen, Webster, Simons, Elliott, Andersson, Hutchinson, Castledine, Burstow. Interestingly, Casteldine who is usually utilised in the midfield or attacking midfield was placed on the left of a back 3. Diego Luna stood out for Real Monarchs and was causing a lot of problems. He had a free kick that looked like it was going in but just went wide. A penalty conceded by Webster for a high foot seemed a bit harsh but Luna stepped up and Beach made a fantastic save and it went out for a corner. The 64th minute saw Ben Elliot pick up the ball from a fantastic Charlie Webster pass and Elliot went around countless players including the goalie before placing it in the goal. At 2-1 the game looked to be in favour of the Blues but mere minutes later a penalty was given away by seemingly both Beach and Simons. This time the penalty was converted by Pedro Fonseca and now the game was level again. Omari Hutchinson the most lively player for Chelsea in the second half by a mile. Countless darting runs inside from the wing and extremely direct. He certainly didn’t need much time to get used to his teammates as he looked very promising. In the deaths of the game Tauriainen missed a glorious chance and the game went to penalties.
Real Monarchs ended up winning the shootout 5-4 with Elliot being the lone Chelsea player to miss.
The first half had lots of promising moments. The midfield was being utilised effectively and Gilmour and Anjorin stood out. They were receiving the ball and spraying it out wide to players like Rankine who know how to exploit the spaces in behind. I thought the intesnity of the pressing for the first pre season game was very impressive and showed a new determination from the players to impress the new gaffer. The 2 goals we conceded were not too worrying and they were goals from nothing. The only time I thought we looked truly vulnerable was a few counter attacks in the first half but they were squashed almost immediately due to the pressure from the players tracking back. Chelsea U21 get back in action in just around 48 hours against Wolves and it is yet to be known whether they will stick with the two different XI’s or try something new. Mark Robinson has proved in just 90 minutes he is not afraid to experiment, case in point Castledine at LCB.
One of my favourite times of the season has returned – preseason. Some hate it, some love it. For me, nothing beats the excitement of the return of football. New signings, new academy players and new tactics (and normally a new manager).
For Chelsea fans, it couldn’t get any better either. Life under Todd Boehly has started off with a bang, and it seems like Thomas Tuchel is finally getting the proper backing he deserves.
Our first pre-season fixture is tomorrow morning (U.K.) and I know I’ll be watching at 3am, hoping to see some of these players I’m about to mention below. Here are just a few names I’m really looking forward to watching over the next 3-4 games:
I understand Levi has a minor knock and as a result is unlikely to feature in tonight’s game against Club America, but that doesn’t change him being one of the largest talking points at the moment in world football.
I recognise it’s slightly hypocritical as I have been banging on about him on a weekly basis for the last 36 months, but I do feel the talk is getting a bit too much now. Whether that’s people overhyping him and saying he should be starting every week, or people saying that that he’s got a massive ego and should stop complaining about wanting a chance.
You do have to remember that this is a 19 year old who has just come out of the Championship. He’s in a very very similar situation to Reece James coming out of his loan at Wigan. With that in mind, you must allow Levi to make mistakes this season (assuming he stays) and trust that we’ll see the best of him in the next few years just like we’re seeing with James now.
I don’t need to talk too much about him other as you’ve all heard about the talent he’s got, and it’s time for Colwill to be given those chances and for him to take it. There’s no better centre backs to learn from than Koulibaly and Silva.
Ethan’s an option who still isn’t being talked about enough. The matter of fact is last season he performed excellently in multiple positions in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Despite the RB Leipzig loan not working out and going down with Sheffield United, he still has so much experience under his belt at such a young age. The big one certainly being playing for Wales against some of the biggest nations in the world.
He can play at centre-back and in defensive midfield to a really high level, and last season showed he can even do a shift at RWB. That surely makes him a really attractive player for Tuchel to keep around, and I do think he’d stay if he was given rotational minutes.
I’ve always been a massive fan of Ethan and I wouldn’t be surprised if his pre-season is similar to Trevoh Chalobah’s last year where he surprises a couple people – manager included.
“Men’s” signing number 2 of the season. There isn’t much else to say to this other than I can’t wait to see him in action.
We unfortunately may see him even later than Raheem Sterling as he hasn’t started training yet, but what I’m most looking forward to is what position he’ll play in the back three.
I imagine he’ll play at LCB, with Silva centrally and Azpilicueta or Trevoh on the right hand side. I’ve also been told Levi in first team training so far has been playing centrally, which does make a lot of sense as he’s one of the best passers I’ve seen and can learn so much from Thiago.
I think most people will be surprised by Koulibaly’s dribbling ability. Don’t be shocked if he goes on a few of those Rudiger runs…
It has now been confirmed by Conor himself, and Tuchel, that he will be staying at the club this season.
Conor’s an interesting one. I think Tuchel sees him as an option in midfield, and as much as he has absolutely done a job there before, I’d rather use him a bit further forward.
Ideally we switch to four at the back and use him in midfield as that’ll certainly be utilising our squad depth fully, but that doesn’t seem to be an option currently.
I remember during the academy I wasn’t totally convinced on Gallagher, and then I watched his debut for Charlton Athletic and everything switched. He then went on to having a great loan at Swansea, followed by two impressive Premier League shifts at West Brom and Crystal Palace.
There’s a bit of work to do with him on the ball, but are there any 22 year olds in the world who don’t need improving? I remember having this exact same conversation about Mason Mount one or two seasons ago. It’ll come. Conor’s here to stay.
Billy….this is difficult. I’m a massive fan, and I think Tuchel is too. His loan at Norwich did not go to plan, but in the same way I viewed Loftus-Cheek’s time at Fulham and Ampadu’s at Sheffield United, it’s valuable Premier League experience which he may not have got if he stuck around at the club.
But, I’m not sure the full trust from the manager is there. I remember vividly the game against Arsenal under lockdown when Gilmour was playing well and Jorginho was one of the worst players on the pitch, and it was the former who was subbed off.
But then again Billy started against City at the Etihad and was brilliant, with Rudiger individually picking him out afterwards for his performance.
I do think this two man midfield suits him quite well too. I’d be interested to see how he’d play with someone like Ethan next to him (in pre season). I’ve got no doubt Billy’s Chelsea quality, and maybe he senses a chance with Kante and Loftus-Cheek very behind at the moment in the plane due to their vaccination status.
Academy Player of the Season – it was only right he’d be on this tour in the US. It’s a bit of a shame it’s only him and Teddy Sharman-Lowe from the academy, but I don’t want to complain too much.
I’m slightly worried that he may not get as many minutes as he deserves as he’s still got Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount all ahead of him in terms of “squad status”.
But, maybe he’ll play a bit more at wingback especially after his success there in the Euros as captain, despite him preferring to play higher up the pitch or more centrally.
I really hope it helps with the contract talks too. I wonder if it’s a bit too late to go on loan as he wouldn’t have enough time to train with the other clubs ahead of the new season, so maybe staying with there being 5 subs may be the best choice for him at the moment. It’s one to keep an eye on.
I seem to be saying this every year, but I do really think it’s make or break season for Callum.
He’s had an early start after coming back from his injury which kept him out for months, and he looks much bigger and says he feels more confident in his body.
The Sterling signing certainly makes things difficult for him as Mount is pretty undroppable for Tuchel and you’d expect Raheem to start. Callum needs to make sure he’s that third option whenever the other two are dropped/rested or there’s a change in formation so Mason goes into midfield.
We saw when Callum was given that trust last season and played constantly, he would perform and we suffered creatively without him. It’s now time for him to be that guy we all know he can be.
The forgotten man…when he shouldn’t be that forgotten.
Often in the past compared to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, so far he’s followed a pretty similar senior career too where he hasn’t played enough football due to injury and certain decisions which haven’t worked out.
I worry that he’s going to be told at the end of this tour that he’s not a wanted man, and that he’ll go on loan again to a club which has settled already and it’ll take even longer for Tino to get minutes.
Either way, this attacking role in our formation suits Tino to a gem. We also shouldn’t forget that this is one of the best attacking talents Cobham have ever produced, physically dominating everyone and probably still being the best finisher at the club.
Similarly to Billy, Tuchel’s a massive fan. Last pre-season he was unfortunate picking up COVID at a terrible time, so maybe with more minutes he can really show what he’s about.
I’ve already mentioned him in this piece a few times, but Chelsea fans should be so excited to see him play in that darker blue.
What I can see happening is him missing a sitter or scuffing a shot and that being replayed all over Twitter, when in reality it’ll be the other good stuff they ignore.
It’ll also be quite interesting to see how the Chelsea squad, and Tuchel, adapt to having someone like Sterling in the squad. Having such an elite winger with incredible movement and technical ability is something the Chelsea players won’t be used to.
A lot of bids have been going in for the Albanian recently. He’s a wanted man.
How wanted is he at Chelsea, though? If I’m being honest, I think he had a very good couple months at Southampton showing he’s got Premier League ability, but other than that went a bit missing and it seemed like defenders had worked him out.
And that is absolutely fine. He’s still so so young. I remember last pre-season he even shocked me as at Vitesse he struggled physically, but all of a sudden he was shrugging off players and linking up really well.
I think he could be a really useful option to have off the bench or against certain opposition this season, so I wouldn’t be against keeping him and pushing him alongside Kai Havertz.
So, that’s it for the preview. There are other players I’m going to keep an eye on as always, but which ones are yours? Let us know on our social media platforms!
I also wrote an academy season preview for Football London where I talked about who to look out for and Neil Bath’s new responsibility under Todd Boehly – so please check that out!
A crucial cog in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19, Matthjis de Ligt announced himself to the football world with his dominant, mature performances in defence, captaining the Dutch side at just 19 years of age. Like many of his Ajax teammates, de Ligt went on to complete an expensive transfer away from Amsterdam, costing Juventus in the region of €75m for his services. Now 22, the centre half is rumoured to be on the move once again, with Thomas Tuchel keen to bring the 2018 Golden Boy winner to Stamford Bridge, as part of Chelsea’s defensive rebuild. Following the outgoings of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, this summer promises to be of mass importance for the Blues, but what would de Ligt bring to the squad, should he sign?
Stylistically, de Ligt has traits that both Rudiger and Christensen demonstrate, making him a perfect replacement in Tuchel’s back three. In the Serie A last season, the Dutchman averaged 2.9 aerial duels won per game, which is over one more per game than Rudiger. As well as this, de Ligt chipped in with three goals from set piece situations, the same number as the Real Madrid-bound defender. Much like Rudiger, de Ligt’s defensive style is very aggressive, as he looks to smother attackers, not allowing them time on the ball. This trait will help Chelsea to replace the edge that Rudiger brought to the team, and that has been present in every successful Chelsea side of the Premier League era.
Although a frustrating figure among some sections of Chelsea supporters throughout his tenure at Stamford Bridge, Christensen’s contribution to the club cannot be undervalued, playing a pivotal role in winning the Champions League in 2021, including a monstrous performance off the bench against Manchester City in the final. The 26-year-old is another who has departed the Blues this summer, with a move to Barcelona being heavily rumoured. One of the Dane’s greatest strengths was his ability on the ball, displaying a calm eagerness to play out from the back, an aptness which de Ligt will have to replicate if he is brought to West London. The former Ajax man averaged 2.76 progressive ball carries per 90 during the 2021-22 season, as well as 1.58 progressive passes per 90, statistics which Tuchel will look to build on should de Ligt transfer to the club.
One of the principal qualities that rose de Ligt to stardom is his leadership, which saw him claim the captain’s armband at Ajax aged 19. As Chelsea look to the future, with players such as Mason Mount, Reece James and Kai Havertz emerging as star players, adding a young player with a big personality to the back line is crucial to the spine they need to build. Alongside the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, de Ligt can continue his development both as a defender and mentally, with Silva possessing desirable leadership qualities in his own right.
Signing one of the most sought-after young defenders of the past decade would not only prove to be a huge statement signing under the new Todd Boehly-led regime, but it would also open up possibilities in terms of team selection for Tuchel. While tending to favour a more defensively compact 3-4-3, fans and pundits alike have pondered over whether the German coach may look to implement a four-at-the-back system more regularly, having experimented with the possibility sporadically last season. However, before making the switch, it is vital that the powers that be at Chelsea Football Club address the midfield, in particular by bringing in a natural defensive midfielder, a position that has been neglected since the sale of Nemanja Matic in 2017.
I don’t need a calendar these days – I can typically take one look at the current situation that Chelsea find themselves in and instantly know what time of year it is. Somehow turning a three team title race into a panicked scramble for top 4? Accusations of squad motivation coinciding with an uptick of individual errors? Calls for the managers head as we hand out points to any team fortunate enough to be paired against us? Despite all this, a cup final on the horizon that seems to hold all the power on whether the previous year is deemed as a success or not? Well, it must be May, right?
I want to be surprised that once again we have dusted off the ol’ trusted script and turned a season which started full of hope and excitement into one of dejection and concern. But, in reality, should we be surprised at all? Has anything really changed over the previous summers that would prevent this seeming inevitability from occurring? In truth, we should have seen this coming. The 21/22 summer represented almost every summer which had proceeded it, the first summer for a new manager to ‘make his mark’ on the squad, following by a marquee signing which divided opinion and a couple of squad signings which left little to be excited about. Yet, despite overwhelming concerns that the majority of issues in the squad hasn’t been addressed, Chelsea started the season like a runaway train and we all hopped on board for the ride, forgetting that we’d travelled this route many times before.
On the surface, you can easily find explanations as to why what has taken place over the following 6 months was out of our control. Incredibly ill-timed injuries to Chilwell, James, Lukaku, Kante and Kovacic put a grinding halt to our momentum. Competing for 7 trophies had the team regularly playing twice a week and of course, the small issue around Abramovic being sanctioned and forced to sell the club. These are all, to a certain degree, valid justifications for dips in form but to take them purely at face value would be slightly naïve to the real reasons behind Chelsea’s all too frequent drop off.
So who is to blame? For some it’s the manager, for some it’s the misfiring front line, for some it’s the board and for some it’s a sport wide conspiracy against the club (..honestly), but really is it down to one factor? The truth, as it often is, is that it’s down to a little bit of all of the above (with the exception of the conspiracies, of course).
I don’t want to spend too much time on Tuchel, as I believe the majority of the blame sits above him and took place prior to his arrival which I will delve into throughout this article, but I would be remised to absolve him entirely. Concerns over his in game management have become more prevalent and justified as the season has evolved with substitutions often coming late and failing to make an impact. In addition to this, having been previously heralded for his ability to rotate effectively, certain players, such as Chalobah and Lukaku, are struggling to get a look in despite those ahead of them failing to make a consistent impact. Under normal circumstances you’d look to pin the lack of player motivation and performance on the manager but this is and issue that so many of his predecessors have also been exceptionally vocal about before ultimately seeing the door. Tuchel, like those above him, has room to develop but I think it’s clear to all that what he has showcased so far is that he’s a manager of the highest calibre and is absolutely the right man to take us forward.
The Squad – Depth in quality, quantity or neither?
It is quite easily to look at this Chelsea squad and marvel at the strength in depth that they posses with quality all over the pitch. A quick look at the 25 man squad showcases a mixture of Ballon D’or nominees and experienced internationals with the most sought after young talents from across Europe and Cobham. It’s very easy to see why many deemed Chelsea genuine title contenders and even favourites going into this season. However, the depth only goes as far as names on a sheet of paper, the real issues begin when you start trying to combine those names into a coherent team that can provide you with the consistency and quality that is required to compete across a gruelling Premier League season.
Doing exactly that starts to highlight the underlying issues within the squad, this isn’t a squad of players with a cohesive, consistent approach to how they like to play. This is a squad full of players that represent different styles and approaches of previous Chelsea managers. At a high level you have a defence primarily forged by Antonio Conte’s pragmatic structure with specialist wing-backs and centre backs that are far more comfortable in a 3. In front of them, you have Sarri’s possession oriented and risk averse midfield and leading the team you have Lampard’s front line of high volume forwards with a reliance on quick transitions and balls in behind. It’s fundamentally because of this mismatch of styles that we find ourselves in situations where players appear to be playing out of position or in roles that quite evidently do not play to their strengths.
As Tuchel found at the start of this season, the overall quality of these players, combined with the malleable and adaptive Cobham graduates, means that a fully fit, well rested squad can still compete with the very best, especially in one off cup ties. The problem is that the cracks immediately start to show when player absences kick in, which they always will across a 60 game season. This is primarily down to the fact there are very few, if any, like-for-like replacements within this Chelsea side, especially not for key players.
Arguably the one position that we don’t need to worry about. Mendy offers the composure and technical ability that is required from a modern goalkeeper whilst regularly producing world class saves. It may have taken us around £100m to get to this point, and we’ve still the most expensive back up keeper in world football but for the time being, we seemed to have eventually got this one right.
The Left Wing-backs
The first few months of this season were spent watching Ben Chilwell maraud down our left side, linking play quickly in the middle of the park, moving the ball forward at every opportunity and getting in the box at every opportunity. His energy and persistent threat, combined with Reece James doing the same on the right hand side allowed us to stretch teams and offer a threat down both flanks. His replacement Marcos Alonso, offers something completely different. Whilst still posing a goal threat and another aerial option, Alonso lacks the mobility to stay ever involved in the game and doesn’t possess the on-the-ball ability to link play and keep the ball moving forward. This isn’t to say that Alonso has performed badly this season, but what he provides the team is completely different to Chilwell and we’ve struggled to adapt to the Englishman’s absence.
The Right Wing-backs
You can somewhat copy and paste what I’ve written above when it comes to Azpilicueta replacing Reece James. It is never going to be easy to replace a player of James’ ability but the drop off in both mobility and on the ball threat when Azpilicueta plays is noticeable and has caused Tuchel to experiment with forwards like Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech and Pulisic all dropping into that role. This issue of course is even harder to take given that Chelsea had let Tino Livramento and Tariq Lamptey leave the club in the last 18 months, both of whom would have been perfect replacements. For a system that was so reliant on it’s wing-backs, to not have suitable replacements for either was only going to end one way.
The Centre Backs
Whilst it could be argued that the centre-back selection features players who perhaps require a 3 man system to succeed, this is perhaps the one position where going into this season we had ample, suitable cover. The emergence of Chalobah and Reece James as options on the right in addition to the existing cast of Silva and Christensen in the middle meant that there was never a real drop off in quality or suitability. The issue at centre-back primarily reared it’s head when Antonio Rudiger, arguably our most influential defender, had only Malang Sarr as his understudy. The Frenchman, who was due to go on loan to a relegation fighting Bundesliga side offers neither the tenacity or ability to drive at defences which the charismatic German has in abundance. Again, like at right-wing back, serious questions over long term strategic planning have to be asked as the club enter a position where it’s likely 4 of these options will leave the club this summer, forcing external recruitment whilst Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori, opportunistically sold, flourish at the highest level.
The midfield is arguably the biggest issue in the squad right now, not so much from a like-for-like replacement perspective but more down to the glaring absence of desperately needed profiles and a lack of compatibility with the current forward line. The absence of a disciplined, defensive minded 6, a role that we’ve lacked since the departure of Nemanja Matic in 2017, has contributed to our reliance on a 3 at-the-back system whilst also welding us to a possession oriented, risk adverse approach which in turn prevents us from making use of the abundance of natural 8s at the club. In addition to the lack of defensive discipline, quick and progressive distribution has been sorely lacking since Cesc Fabregas was replaced by the more metronomic and cautious Jorginho, this has been felt the most by our front line of forwards who thrive on balls in behind. Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus Cheek both offer the ability to progress play through their fantastic driving runs but end product across the entire midfield leaves plenty to be desired with an accumulative 6 goals and 17 assists across all competitions, excluding Jorginho’s penalties (for reference, Mason Mount has 12 goals and 15 assists individually.) It could be justifiably argued that N’golo Kante is irreplaceable and as such, it’s perhaps harsh to pinpoint the lack of an adequate replacement but there is not a single player in the Chelsea squad with a skillset even remotely comparable to the Frenchman which is absurd for such an important, yet injury prone player. All of these factors combined has left Tuchel with a midfield that is defensively suspect in transition and ineffective at linking us with his front line which leads me to..
I genuinely don’t know where to begin with this one. The Chelsea front line almost perfectly represents the chaos and opportunistic approach of Chelsea’s recruitment process over the past 5 years, and that’s before we even begin to look at those who have already left the club. As it currently stands, despite spending in the region of £300m on forwards, Chelsea’s best forward is the aforementioned Mason Mount, a midfielder from the academy. Despite this, Mount has become completely irreplaceable as the connection between our midfield and attack, showcasing the ability to pick up the ball in half-spaces, turn quickly and release others whilst also offering a goalthreat himself. However, like N’golo Kante, despite being such a pivotal part of Chelsea’s success, there is not a single player who can replicate the skillset offered by the energetic England international and certainly not with the same offensive output.
Onto the big recruitments, Romelu Lukaku, the only real signing of the Tuchel era, was purchased for just shy of £100m and has returned 10 goals in a season filled with outspoken discontent, injuries and long spells on the bench. However, the returning Belgian’s troubles were predicted by many due to a complete clash of styles between club and player which Lukaku himself controversially verbalised in his ill-advised interview with Sky Italia. Chelsea had found success the previous season with a high energy, high pressing front line which was a far cry from the system which saw Lukaku thrive in Italy under previous Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. As such, despite promising signs early on with a couple of spectacular goals, Lukaku’s presence tended to destabilise the Chelsea attack and saw the team frequently give up control of games and resort to using the former Inter Milan striker as nothing more than a Target Man doing his best Andy Carroll impression. As for the two Germans, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, their struggles have been widely evident. As two players who thrived in the quick transitions and space offered up in the Bundesliga, the latter regularly finds himself as a winger who is required to get involved in build up (with varying success…) and the former is often asked to play as a sole striker, spending large portions of the game chasing down defenders and patiently waiting for the often singular chance that is created for him by an exceptionally risk adverse set up behind him (again, with varying success).
Callum Hudson-Odoi has struggled to find consistency this season, although it should be no surprise that one of Chelsea’s most offensively productive spells was when the Cobham graduate got a consistent run of games. The only real winger in the squad, Callum arguably offers the most versatility in offense with his 1v1 ability and ability to progress and create through dribbling, passing and crossing. That versatility cannot be said for the final two recruits in Pulisic and Ziyech, two players who have failed to carve out a consistent role in the team and often look like square pegs in round holes, offering little more than the occasional moment but at a frequency which doesn’t justify continued involvement.
When you breakdown that list of players what you are left with is 7 players of wildly different skillsets that require wildly different set ups to thrive. This goes a long way to explain their inconsistencies as individuals but also forces Tuchel into huge tactical changes whenever we look to make any amendments to the front line. This is best evidenced in Chelsea’s 3-2 loss at Madrid where a dominant Chelsea side, set up perfectly to progress through to the Champions League Semi-Finals, were continually made weaker by substitutions, enforced through tiredness, which completely altered the Blues approach and effectiveness in the game.
Whilst I appreciate this looks like a scathing attack on the majority of the front line, the truth is that I’ve a large degree of sympathy with all of these players. There was an understandable excitement when all of these players were purchased due to their performances on the continent and the reputations they had deservedly carved for themselves. However, these players weren’t signed with any real plan of how to replicate and build upon the success they had experienced elsewhere. These aren’t bad players and didn’t become so overnight, we just quite simply do not have the ability to replicate the environment that allows them to thrive. As previously mentioned Timo Werner put up huge numbers in the Bundesliga playing in a quick transitioning, high chance volume Leipzig side alongside a focal point in Yussuf Poulsen but is now playing out wide with ball to feet and back to goal. Lukaku became one of the best strikers in world football playing alongside the dynamic Lautaro Martinez and having the freedom ability to occupy space on the right but is now being used as a back to goal backboard, watching players regularly opt to pass backwards than play him in. Even the best players will fail if you don’t set them up to succeed.
Conclusion and Solution
In summarisation, our recruitment has been heavily driven by opportunistic market signings and short lived managerial “projects”, leaving us with no clear style of play, ill-fitting specialists and a distinct lack of adequate replacements for key players. This essentially means that every single injury requires a complete shift in tactical approach, both offensively and defensively. It’s quite easy to see how a couple of key injuries derailed us to the extent that they did, let alone the amount we suffered heading into Christmas.
But is it all negative and are we doomed to watch this exact scenario play out year on year? Thankfully not. The imminent arrival of new ownership presents the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs that the previous administration were too proud to do. Failed vanity projects and the sunk-cost that has been continually pumped into ill-fitting players can be scrapped and a clear strategy and philosophy can be established and ingrained from the top down. Players such as Jorginho, Alonso, Azpilicueta and Barkley with imminently expiring contacts can be moved on to open up squad roles for more suitable, long term options. Players with more time left on their deals but are unlikely to suit our development, such as, but certainly not limited to, Pulisic (2024), Sarr (2025) and Kenedy (2024) can also be moved on to create both space and funds which can be reinvested back into the team. And finally, there’s some very tough decisions to be made on some expensive acquisitions, that’ll likely have to be sold at a loss, if they do not match the strategic vision on the club.
The positives is that many of the solutions appear to already be at the club. Conor Gallagher represents another high intensity midfielder in the mould of Mount who offers a realistic goalthreat both in goals and assists. Armando Broja presents a high pressing forward on an upwards trajectory with proven Premier League quality. Levi Colwill is a ready made solution to our self imposed void at LCB, offering the composure, distribution and defensive ability that could make him a mainstay in the Chelsea defence over the next decade and go a little way to right the wrongs of the Tomori and Guehi departures. There’s also genuine discussions that could be had over whether the likes of Billy Gilmour, Ethan Ampadu, Dujon Sterling, Ian Maatsen, to name by a few, could offer genuine suitable replacements at a fraction of the cost.
Once a strategic vision and philosophy is in place, external recruitment can also become far more targeted and productive. Highlighting missing profiles in the squad and recruiting smartly to fill those gaps will make the squad as a whole far more complete and cohesive, offering Tuchel the tactical flexibility and genuine strength in depth that we sorely lack as it currently stands which in turn will allow us to fairly assess both the manager and the players.
Whilst I’m loathed to credit them too much, we need only look above us in the table at City and Liverpool as examples of how we need to operate. Their philosophies, whilst linked to their managers, is deeply ingrained within the club as a whole. Every bit of recruitment makes logical sense within the overarching framework of their tactical set up, allowing seamless rotation on the pitch but also off of it too. The moment Klopp and Guardiola leave, the manager incoming will almost certainly match that of their predecessor and the vision and progression of the club as a whole remains undisturbed and forward moving. For example, you won’t see Manchester City looking at Antonio Conte as their next manager as it wouldn’t make logical sense and likely set them back years (we still have 5 of his players, for what it’s worth).
There’s plenty to be optimistic about however and this summer, under new ownership, represents our best chance to right the wrongs of previous seasons and hopefully next season I’ll need to buy that calendar after all.
Despite the mass exodus of Chelsea youth products which included Marc Guehi, Valentino Livramento and Fikayo Tomori, Chelsea have fortunately managed to tie down one of the best Centre Back prospects in the world, who has impressed on his loan at Huddersfield. So for those who haven’t watched him before – who is he?
Who is Levi Colwill?
Levi Colwill is a 19 year old left footed 6’3” centre back (can slot at left back if needed) who has been at Chelsea since the under-9s. He hails from Southampton, England. He made his debut In a UEFA Youth League draw against Valencia. He soon after signed his professional contract for the club on his 17th birthday and signed a new four-year deal in June 2021 keeping him at the club till 2025.
How good is Levi Colwill?
Levi Colwill is having an impressive loan at Huddersfield and is probably Huddersfield’s player of the season. He has played 28 games for Huddersfield keeping 14 clean sheets – that is a clean sheet in every other game. Levi has it all just name it. His defensive stats are solid as expected with 1.7 tackles won P90, 4.1 Clearances P90 and a WhoScored rating of 7.02. This is impressive when compared to Rudiger’s 1.2 tackles P90, 2.2 clearances P90 and a WhoScored ratings of 6.92. Ball playing is an attribute, almost a requirement needed for a centre back in today’s game. Luckily for us, Levi Colwill is also an inherent ball playing centre back with 51 passes P90 and 2.8 long balls P90.
Levi Colwill is also utterly dominant on the left side of the pitch, with his big body stature. At a glance, attackers get afraid to go anywhere near him. He need not go to ground to win the ball back. A shoulder nudge is sufficient to put the attacker off balance. As you can see below. Levi is a defensive monster who wins a 50/50 duel with ease.
In the words of his coach, Carlos Corberan: “We looked at Levi last January, so we were aware of him before we signed him. As a person, he fits in so well. It’s his professionalism; the way he conducted himself and approached the loan has been fantastic. Some players come in from bigger clubs and think maybe it will be easy. He has humility and openness to come in and work for his place and buy into what we are doing. He has been excellent and is not only credit to himself but to Chelsea, with the way they work around and prepare these players, The way he has fit into this team has been unbelievable. The player and staff really like him and love working with him. He’s looking to improve and working to get better. Talent wise, for his age, he is one of the best I’ve seen when I’ve been playing and coaching. The chances, for me, are so high that he will go back and play for Chelsea and England.”
This not only shows how good Colwill is on the pitch but off the pitch. No wonder he was given John Terry’s famous number 26.
In conclusion, Colwill may not be ready to start for us right now, but I believe he has the mentality and ability to push for a starting position in the future just like Mason Mount and Reece James.
These were the thoughts of legendary Manchester United custodian Alex Ferguson, following his side’s dramatic injury time triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup final. The same sentiment could be used to describe Chelsea’s trip to Madrid last night, but perhaps from a place of slightly less jubilation.
It’s not often that a side comes to the home of the 13-time European Cup winners and comprehensively outplay them, but that is exactly what Chelsea managed to do. Aiming to maintain their 100% record against Real Madrid in knockout ties, the Blues were 11 minutes from securing the most unlikely of comebacks. It seemed for all the world that London’s finest had booked their place in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition when Timo Werner calmly slotted home late on – something in itself that seemed a minor miracle. We all know what happened next: the timeless Modric curling a peach of a ball into the box with his other-worldly right boot, which was dutifully finished by the young Rodrygo, followed by a stooping Benzema header in extra time to consign Chelsea to a gut-wrenching exit. This game went beyond score lines and stats though, and in these most uncertain of times for the Blues, this was a reminder of exactly what it is to be a part of the Chelsea family.
The first half went exactly to plan for Tuchel’s charges. Back in a more familiar 3-4-3 formation following the ill-advised switch to a back four for the Brentford game and parts of the first leg of this quarter-final tie, there were a couple of surprising inclusions for Chelsea. Timo Werner kept his place on the left side of the front line following his impressive performance against Southampton at the weekend, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek did the same, putting in an incredible shift at right wing-back, with Reece James monstrous yet again in his role as the right-sided centre back in a back three. The Blues choked the home side with their aggressive pressing patterns, so often forcing the ball back to Courtois, who in turn would hurriedly clear and present possession back to the away side. It took only until the 15th minute for Chelsea to capitalise on their over-whelming dominance. Following good build-up play by Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek, the ball fortuitously dropped to Mount off Werner’s thigh. The Cobham academy graduate needed no second invitation, exquisitely bending a bouncing ball first-time past the helpless dive of Courtois. It was the perfect start.
Chelsea continued to dominate proceedings without carving too many clear-cut chances for themselves, as the Londoner’s exited the pitch for half-time with their aggregate deficit halved to just the one goal. The second period got off to the perfect start with a towering Rudiger header from a delightful Mount corner evening the scores. The equaliser temporarily sparked Madrid into life, satisfying the baying home crowd with a couple of opportunities, first for Benzema then for Kroos from a free-kick. However, it looked as though Chelsea had completed a memorable comeback when flying left wing-back Marcos Alonso rocketed a dropping ball into the top right of Courtois’ goal with his weaker right foot, only for VAR to chalk off the effort due to the tiniest contact between ball and the Spaniard’s tucked-in hand. 5 minutes later it looked like that decision could have haunted Chelsea as Benzema had yet another free header, however this time the 2022 Balon d’Or favourite could only guide his effort onto Mendy’s upright.
Cut to the 75th minute and the most unlikely of heroes for Chelsea. A perfectly weighted through-ball from the imperious Kovacic (96 passes at a 96% accuracy to go with his two darting dribbles) slipped Timo Werner past Casemiro and Carvajal. Now to the tricky part. The German is infamous for slapping any chance he gets wide of the mark, or for being offside, or a combination of the two. However, on the grandest of occasions he was able to maintain the clarity of thought to cut past a sliding Casemiro, and then a well-placed David Alaba, before firing beyond Courtois. It looked as though the much-maligned forward had finally come good with a winner, following his impressive brace at the weekend. Much like the rest of the German’s Chelsea career however, upset was soon to follow. Five minutes later Modric picked out the perfect pass and that was the beginning of the end for an inspired Chelsea. Substitute Pulisic spurned two huge opportunities from perfect knockdowns from teammates and so this epic was to go to an additional half an hour of extra time.
96 minutes in, Chelsea had made only one change (Pulisic for Werner) and the fatigue from battling for every ball for an hour and a half was beginning to set in. Vinicius Junior was away on the left-hand side, possibly the only time he had been free of a relentless Reece James since the early minutes of the game. The Brazilian once again demonstrated his almost telepathic relationship with Benzema, hanging a perfect ball into the box for the French forward to convert, with Rudiger slipping at the vital moment. The game was far from over. Havertz had bustled with industry and intensity from the very first whistle, and almost caught out former Chelsea man Courtois (which would have delighted his numerous detractors in the fan-base), sprinting and straining to block what he thought would be an up-field punt from the goalkeeper following a heavy touch. However, the Belgian proved his class with a calm Cruyff turn to get himself out of what could have been a very high-profile blunder. Havertz had a much better chance to earn his side a deserved equaliser just minutes later, failing to bury a free header from a magnificent Reece James delivery from the right flank. Finally, it was Jorginho’s turn to snatch at a guild-edged chance at the death, failing to finish a ball from Ziyech from all of ten yards out and under little pressure. The final whistle went, with La Liga leaders Real Madrid clinching a place in the semi-finals.
However, as I wrote at the start of this article: this game was about so much more than the result – despite the fact that the Blues did actually win this match 3-1 after 90 minutes! The perfect story to sum up this game was embodied by Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Forever the nearly-man, talked up by a seemingly endless procession of Chelsea managers as the future of their midfield (despite never being given a consistent run outside of the Europa League), the Englishman put in an incredible performance, little over 12 months since being relegated as part of a poor Fulham side – offering a single goal contribution over his season there. Throw in the horrific ACL injury sustained in a charity match at the end of his first season of regular minutes at Chelsea, which forced him to miss out on a Europa League final as well as the academy revolution of the Frank Lampard era, it looked as though the Englishman was finished at Stamford Bridge, another sad story of wasted potential at the London side. However, given a run of games over winter following injuries to Kovacic and Jorginho, Ruben grew into his role as a deep-lying playmaker and excelled there for a month. His resultant downturn in form coincided with the general December malaise at the club and gametime has been hard to come by since. But following a majestic performance in an unusual right wing-back position on the South Coast on Saturday, Tuchel put his faith in him to thrive in the most intimidating of atmospheres. Seemingly assured by the immense defensive presence of Reece James on his inside, Loftus-Cheek ruled the right-flank with 4 crosses and 2 key passes, as well as playing a key part in Chelsea’s first goal and performing to a high level throughout both on and off the ball, his driving runs from deep a reminder of the dynamic presence he can be.
Mason Mount again silenced his doubters, with his 23rd and 24th goal contributions of the season (far and away the side’s most prolific player in this regard). The tireless midfielder put in a pressing performance for the ages, whilst finding the time to lay on a match-high 4 key passes and continued his impressive record against Spain’s most successful side, following on from his semi-final goal at the Bridge against the same opposition last year – so much for flat track bully! Reece James completed the triumvirate of academy players starting on such a huge stage. Following a yellow card for a professional foul on Vinicius Junior after getting beaten far too easily, the 22-year-old prevented the in-form winger from creating anything of note until extra time. This was summed up by his astonishing 8 tackles, three more than the next best on the pitch. Once again the Cobham graduate proved his world-class ability at right centre back, as well as bombing forwards to provide precise crosses and a thunderbolt effort which led to the corner from which Rudiger bagged Chelsea’s second.
Finally, there were a couple of stories of redemption on an extraordinary night for Chelsea. Coming into April it seemed as though Timo Werner’s head was fixed solely on his new club (thought to be Borussia Dortmund), as he shirked challenges all over the field and failed to impress during a six-month league goal-drought. However, the German seemed a man reborn following his confidence boosting double against the Saints, and he made threatening runs all night. Loftus-Cheek failed to release Werner on a couple of occasions, but when he was finally given his chance by Kovacic, he took it with both hands, briefly becoming a Chelsea cult-hero. There could yet be time for Werner to save his Chelsea career! Marcos Alonso is another potential summer departure for the Blues, following many questions over his pace and defensive abilities. The Spaniard was even dropped from his left wing-back berth for countryman Azpilicueta for the first leg against Madrid, despite it being the captain’s weaker flank. Alonso was back with a point to prove, and on top of his harshly disallowed goal he was a calming figure for the away side throughout. His joint match-leading 4 key passes illustrated his offensive contribution, as well as his 9 crosses, and he was switched on defensively, helping Rudiger shore up the left flank and preventing Carvajal and Llorente overloading that side.
If there are any Chelsea fans out there feeling awful today I can more than understand why: we were 11 minutes from a well-deserved Champions League semi-final spot and who knows what could have happened from there. But hopefully with a bit of perspective we can all see a bright future for Chelsea, regardless of who takes over. In Thomas Tuchel we have a tactical genius who once again proved he is one of the best coaches in the world. We have a young and hungry squad: Chilwell, Mount, Havertz, Chalobah, James and Hudson-Odoi are all 25 and under. And on top of these crucial factors, we have an innate fighting spirit and a passionate fanbase who will stick by the side through thick and thin.
The away fans at the Santiago Bernabeu put it best as they serenaded their heroes after the full-time whistle: ‘Champions of Europe, we’ll sing that ‘till May’.
It is definitely safe to say that Romelu Lukaku’s time at Chelsea has been underwhelming at best and not only his goal scoring has been sub-par but it is his general play that is the most worrying. Everyone has seen the graphic about Lukaku having just 7 touches vs Crystal Palace and it is alarming for him as an individual player and the team itself. Countless times you will see our attackers look up directly at Lukaku when he is in a position to receive it and just turn out and play sideways or backwards. If you focus solely on Lukaku throughout a match, he does often raise his hand indicating he wants the ball and will usually follow this with a slight run in behind before the player with the ball does the aforementioned turn out and play elsewhere. This then results in the classic Lukaku sulk that usually sees him just standing offside for at least a few seconds as he trots back towards the last defender.
In recent weeks our centre-backs have begun following this trend of not playing the ball to Lukaku when he is a favourable option. Below is a kind of example that I speak of. If you don’t go to games you unfortunately don’t have the ability to see most of the actions Lukaku does but trust me, he does actually make smart runs and clearly indicates when he wants the ball.
Obviously I have no inkling as to what passes and patterns of play that our centre-backs are stipulated to play but it really looks like they avoid playing passes to our front players religiously. This snapshot was taken in the 7th minute and I do understand the famous tactic of keep it simple for the first 10 or so. However, in a stalemate game like this one as it was for so long, you have to make a few risks here and there. Rudiger is a man that lives by calculated risks, the infamous Rudiger run that opens up passing lanes and space and his long shots from outside the box are synonymous with his play style. I would love for Rudiger to try more chipped balls in behind the defence and passes into Lukaku’s feet as he attempts to hold it up.
One of the main issues with our centre-backs playing passes in behind is the low-block style that nearly every team implements when we play them. Chelsea’s main nemesis this year has been teams we should wipe the floor with, implementing a low-block that stifles our attack. If I was an opposition manager setting up in a low-block 4-4-2 or 5-4-1 would be an easy option and many managers in the League have thought this way also. The low-block system limits the space in behind and makes the game more centrally. Meaning no space in behind for runs and more players centrally in the way between Rudiger, Silva or Christensen getting the ball into the feet of Lukaku.
The picture above is a perfect example of where a calculated risk should be taken by Rudiger. Toni is certainly skilled enough to attempt this pass and pull it off and I feel that more risks taken like this will greatly increase our chances to score.
In games like the Crystal Palace one, the time the centre-backs have on the ball is heavily evident and I would love to see the statistics on how much time our centre-backs are actually in possession of the ball. A few more risks sprinkled into the style of Rudiger and Christensen would be ideal.
Havertz and Lukaku utilised together upfront is an option that has become available in the last few games for Tuchel and having a bigger man to make runs off of could elevate Havertz to an even further level. Havertz is the first choice number 9 for Chelsea at the moment and in the game vs Burnley we could see a few more longer range passes coming into play. Burnley played with a higher line than usual and especially in the first half looked to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea. Lukaku could have had a field day in behind that defence but has a long way to go before solidifying his place over an in-form Kai Havertz.
At this point in the season, Chelsea’s top scorer is still Jorginho with nine goals scored. The predicament from last season still stands as even with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, one of the best strikers in the world last season, nothing has changed with who stands in the top of the scoresheets for the club. Besides goal and assist output, consistency in performances has been nearly impossible to manage for any of our forwards this season, as the goalscoring output of this team has been incredibly up and down since the start of the season. It might be even funnier to add that the goalscoring output from our team has mostly come from the defenders, notably from our full-backs, Ben Chilwell and Reece James. With Chelsea having almost completely dropped out the Premier League title race with a heartbreaking loss at Man City, I wanted to look at what exactly went wrong with our forward line, possible solutions we can implement in the now to possibly salvage other competition, and also look at long term options beyond this season.
What went wrong?
Well, that depends on how far you want to go back. The issue with Chelsea’s attack stems from a long line of poorly scouted transfer decisions that start from 2019, ever since Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic, the first player to be incorporated into this team in this current generation of Chelsea forwards. Over the course of the past few transfer windows, the strategy has been to secure the top talent in the market, without recognizing the fit those targets would play in the Chelsea squad. Essentially, players who could, in theory, perform multiple roles and be efficient in multiple systems, but as it turns out, in order to get the best out of them in the Premier League level, they would need to be played in niche roles and niche positions. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz are great examples of the latter situation as both players were advertised to be players who could excel in any position, any role, any system, but in fact had limited versatility when trying to get the very best out of them. The failure to recognize profiles that fit the squad is a big reason as to why we are stuck in the predicament that we find ourselves in. However, it is futile to cry over spoiled milk at this point and it is not completely fair to put the entire weight of blame on the decisions made by the club.
The team’s formation and system have shown to be a big reason as to why our forwards are misfiring. Too often this team has dropped points from a lack of goal scoring, or lack of chance creation and a big part of that could be attributed to system Thomas Tuchel outfits. In our 3-4-3, the wing-backs often act as the main source of creativity and energy, performing the roles of chance creators, goal scorers, full-backs and midfielders all at once. Although there is no doubt it has gotten a great deal out of this squad and has yielded immense results (refer: Champions League Final 2021), it also almost definitely limits the roles of the forwards to poachers who occasionally link up the play to set up the midfielders or the full-backs to create chances. Limiting our forwards to poachers could probably explain a great deal of the shortcomings of the forward line, but when we were able to outfit our best XI every game, the shortcomings were masked as the rest of the team could fire in all cylinders. However, with the loss of Ben Chilwell and Reece James, we also lost their dynamism and versatility with them, which in a lot of ways made this team a boring, predictable and underwhelming outfit, further highlighting the vast number of issues with all of our forwards.Individuals also have to be held to blame for their own issues and that is no different to the case of our forwards. As mentioned earlier, bar the exception of Mason Mount, consistency has not been a factor maintained by any of our forwards over the past two and a half years. Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has arguably been the best performing and most creative Chelsea forward this season, still cannot maintain consistency and fails to influence a lot of games significantly, as even after his great showings, struggles to nail down a position in that front three. In Mason Mount’s case, since his debut he has certainly been one of, if not the best player at the club. As it stands however, whether it be to fatigue, burnout or some other reason, Mason Mount has been awfully inconsistent this season and is currently going through a very bad patch of form. Yet, Mount, a natural midfielder made to play in that front line, still poses the highest statistical output of any Chelsea forward! That is the season’s story of one of the best players at the club; the cases of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz have looked even more bleak when not only compared with the performances of Mason Mount, but also when compared with the forward options posed by other clubs in Europe and the Premier League alike. Every club at every level in the Premier League have had atleast one player that is performing in an extremely high level at the moment and that cannot be said about any of our forward options.
With Timo Werner, the issue is one you cannot seem to ignore no matter how hard you try. With 6 goals in 18 appearances, the extreme lack of clinical chance conversion is an absolute trainwreck to watch when it happens right in front of your eyes every week. However, there is a lot that Werner can add to this team even without goalscoring. His pace allows him to stretch defenses, exploit high lines, and since he’s also extremely hard-working out of possession, he becomes a valuable tool in the team press and winning back the ball. The same statement is a stretch when talking about Kai Havertz. After one year and six months at Chelsea, it is not unreasonable to say that there is not a single trait that stands out with Havertz. He can add a differece to the dynamism of the forward line, like Timo Werner, but otherwise almost never poses a tangible effect on the team. He ranks considerably low in every single progressive action stat (dribbles completed, progressive passes, progressive carries) and ranks in the 14th percentile for Shot-Creating Actions amongst other attacking midfielders and wingers (source: fbref), often leading to the question: what is he good at? Christian Pulisic another forward who has been horribly inconsistent, who I have already analyzed in an earlier piece (link). Too often he has seemed a moments player that heavily relies on momentum and confidence, and when he’s not scoring or creating (which he rarely does anyway), he does not add anything to the team.
With Havertz and Pulisic, a benefit of doubt can be given as they are still both under 24 years of age and if you believe in their potential, that is enough reason to keep holding faith and let them ride out their slumps. In the case of Hakim Ziyech however, it is not quite as simple. Hakim Ziyech was brought in in the start of the 20/21 season and his transfer move was one that was supposed to bring instant impact. It was widely known that Ziyech was a very hit-or-miss player but before every hit in his Chelsea career, we have had to witness atleast 10 misses which has sparked a serious debate among the possibility of his outgoing rather soon. Though I believe it may be both in Chelsea’s and Ziyech’s best interests to let him leave in the summer, I do believe that Ziyech has been the biggest victim of Tuchel’s system. Ziyech’s best quality is receiving the ball from deeper areas and finding creative solutions to defensive set-ups, but with the poaching role assigned to him, he rarely has had the ability to exert himself akin to how he used to at Ajax. Romelu Lukaku is another player who could also reason his shortcomings this season with the Tuchel’s system and it would be completely true. That does not, however, exempt him from criticism as he has played a big part in his own underwhelming season, being a static, non-influening, non-exerting striker in most games he has played so far. Lukaku has displayed glimpses of a 100 million pound striker at certain times though, and since he has only been at Chelsea for only six months, there is still hope that he can become the clinical, consistent forward we need, provided he still wants to stay at Chelsea that is.
How can Chelsea fix this?
The priority for the remainder of this season has to be to get the existing players to start firing again and the solution that seems the most obvious is to switch the formation, even if for only certain games. The loss of Chilwell and James were massive as they made this entire team tick in this formation, and Azpilicueta and Alonso simply cannot fulfill the roles of the wing-backs to remotely the same level. Fortunately, Tuchel has though of this already, fielding a 4-2-2-2 in both legs of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Tottenham, yielding great results and showing great potential for the future. The 4-2-2-2 formation was discussed in more detail in an earlier article written by Tom Driver (link), which I would heavily recommend reading as the article gives a great description of the formation’s potential, along with who it can benefit and hinder.
If the forwards fail to tick in this formation too in either the roles of the dual-strikers or the attacking midfielders, then a conscious decision has to be made by Thomas Tuchel to bring players from the academy into the fold. Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell have already had their debuts this season against Chesterfield in the FA Cup and both had a great showing, the former certainly looking like the best player among a team that featured a few senior players in the squad. There is no doubt in my mind that Vale is absolutely ready to be given a real spot in this squad as even in his short glimpses, he has looked like a great spark we could absolutely use to strengthen our attack, and with a few chances, Soonsup-Bell could also be the goalscoring spark we need. With the likes of Joe Gerhaldt and Jarrad Branthwaite scoring against Chelsea in their senior debuts, and the emergence of the likes of Cole Palmer, Jacob Ramsey, Carney Chukwuemeka, and many other young talents in the Premier League, there is no reason we shouldn’t look to Cobham to bring a creative spark in this team.
It seems evident that long term, Thomas Tuchel wants to pivot to a more familiar 4-2-2-2 or 4-1-4-1 formation that he fielded multiple times in Mainz, Dortmund and PSG as one of the main targets Chelsea have put an emphasis on through multiple reports has been the possible signing of Declan Rice or Aurelian Tchouameni in the summer transfer window. This would certainly allow Thomas Tuchel to play another attacker and allow us to open low blocks, or in theory at least. The harsh reality may be however that a fair amount of our forwards have to be let go. With the investments the club has made into the forward line, the output has been drastically subpar and the ambitions of the club do not leave much time for the persistent shortcomings of our forwards. In that case however, it is incredibly important that the club do not fall into the same patterns of terrible decisions again and perform the proper diligence when it comes to scouting and making decision about signings. There is also no reason the club cannot rely on Cobham to bring in players for the future as well, as the best performing and highest ceiling forwards of the past few seasons; Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi; have all come from Cobham. The likes of Armando Broja and even Connor Gallagher have been remarkable this season with Southampton and Crystal Palace, and with the likes of Harvey Vale and Jude Sunsoop-Bell showing great potential, it is about time Chelsea realize that our very own Cobham lads often have the most upside and the least downside as the future of the club.
Thomas Tuchel surprised us all on Wednesday evening in the 2-0 victory against Tottenham in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge. Having been previously reluctant to veer too far from his tried and tested back-three system, Tuchel lined up with a back-four for (almost) the first time in his reign as Chelsea boss. A Kai Havertz opener followed by an unfortunate Ben Davies own goal saw Chelsea cruise to victory, in a game that really could have ended four or five goals to nil. Antonio Conte had no answer to Tuchel’s setup, one which may well be a glimpse of the future for Chelsea fans.
Hakim Ziyech was the key man for Chelsea’s system on Wednesday, filling in at right-wing-back as the team maintained its back-three shape off the ball. He pushed high up the field when Chelsea pressed Tottenham’s block and tucked in as the right-sided number 10 once Chelsea regained possession. This is very similar to how Christian Pulisic was used when Chelsea played Leeds at Elland Road last season, an indicator that the setup had been in Tuchel’s mind long before Wednesday’s game. Mason Mount, meanwhile, dropped in to form a midfield-three out of possession, and pushed forward into the left-sided 10 position when Chelsea had the ball, as illustrated below. Essentially; 3-5-2 off the ball, 4-2-2-2 on it. This meant that our defensive solidity was maintained, whilst, in attack, Tottenham’s midfield two was overwhelmed by the combination of Chelsea’s four midfielders and Havertz, who dropped deep to help link play. A masterstroke from Tuchel.
We should, however, consider the fact that Conte and Spurs will not have been prepared for this, setting up to deal with the back-three formation Chelsea had used in every game so far this season rather than the new-look back-four. With time to mount an adequate game plan, teams might use more central midfielders, or target the right-hand-side of Chelsea’s defence with overloads in order to expose Ziyech’s defensive weaknesses, for instance. For this reason, I think Chelsea fans may have to wait until next season to see this setup used more consistently. As links to West Ham’s Declan Rice and AS Monaco’s Aurélien Tchouaméni persist, it is looking ever more likely that Chelsea will sign an athletic defensive midfielder in the coming summer transfer window. This would allow Tuchel to use a similar system, but without the necessity for either of the number 10s to fill in at wing-back, as the defensive cover provided by a physical midfield signing would prevent Chelsea from being exposed on the counter.
Given that the 4-2-2-2 seems a realistic possibility for Chelsea next season, it’s worth considering some potential winners and losers that would come out of this formation change.
Romelu Lukaku – The best spell in Lukaku’s career came at Inter Milan under Antonio Conte, where the Belgian rose from being a ridiculed flop at Manchester United to being widely accepted as one of the world’s best strikers. Paired with Lautaro Martinez, he was extremely influential on the right side of the front two, using his speed and power to dominate the right channel. Much of this season, he has been used as a lone striker, a static reference point, constantly with his back to goal. We didn’t need Romelu to tell us for us to realise this clearly doesn’t suit him, as many began to claim, “we play better without him”. Using him this way is reminiscent of his time at Manchester United, where José Mourinho struggled to maximise his potential. As seen in the first half against Spurs, the 4-2-2-2 allows Lukaku to return to his favoured right channel, where he is more able to impact the game, by both hovering on the last line of defence and finding the runs of his strike partner.
Kai Havertz – Though Havertz also favours this right channel, he is very comfortable playing on the left of the front two, something he proved in Wednesday night’s game. Since Tuchel was appointed, it has become clear that Havertz should be played high up the pitch, and this split striker formation allows Chelsea to make the most of his intelligent movement in the box. The small matter of dealing with Lukaku means that defences leave more space for him to drift into, just as we saw with his early goal against Spurs. Equally, when he’s not the lone striker there is less of a need for him to be a presence on the last line of the defence, meaning he can use his ability to drop deep and link play. This constitutes a new dynamic in Chelsea’s build up, making the most of his understanding with the likes of Mason Mount, amongst others.
Timo Werner – Werner is yet another example of a player who is less comfortable when played as a lone striker. Much like Kai, Timo’s quality movement is most effective when he is joined by a strike-partner, preventing him from being marked out the game. Like Lukaku, his most successful days came playing in a front two overseas, off the left of Yussuf Poulsen at RB Leipzig, scoring 34 goals in all competitions in the 2019-20 season. Having either been played either too wide, deep, or central so far in his Chelsea career, the 4-2-2-2 could be the key to him rediscovering his goal-scoring form.
Christian Pulisic – Despite the recent equaliser against Liverpool, Pulisic’s time under Tuchel so far can only be described as inconsistent, bordering on disappointing. The 3-4-3 used by the Chelsea manager has often seen Pulisic stuck dribbling in between the lines, exposing his lack of creativity, and leaving him too far from goal. Playing in the front two of the 4-2-2-2 would favour his goal-scoring instincts and movement in the box, without leaving him as isolated as he has been when used as a lone striker in recent games.
Mason Mount – Although Mason has had an excellent year, finishing in the top 20 of the 2021 Ballon d’Or and playing a pivotal role in Chelsea’s Champions League success, it’s important to remember he has not been playing in his favoured position. His skillset is perfect for the 8 role and, like Pulisic, playing on either side of the front 3 leaves him with too much responsibility to create between the lines. Playing a 4-2-2-2 wouldn’t have him as an 8, but it does allow him to occupy deeper areas and play a greater role in the build-up, whilst still being able to arrive late in the box and finish off Chelsea attacks. He would not be the primary creator in this system.
Hakim Ziyech – Ziyech is another on Chelsea’s list of forwards who haven’t thrived in Tuchel’s 3-4-3. He is a player who likes to remain wide on the right side of the pitch, finding the runs of those inside the box with in-swinging crosses from his infamous left foot. Reece James’s ability to come infield would facilitate Ziyech remaining wide, their connection something to look out for if Ziyech remains at Stamford Bridge next season. With an extra striker in the box, the chances are Ziyech’s assist count would benefit. The same can be said for Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has displayed a fantastic understanding with both Kai Havertz and Romelu Lukaku so far in his Chelsea career.
Jorginho – Jorginho is a player who divides opinion. Tuchel’s back-three system has seen the holding midfielder’s strengths maximised and his weaknesses masked, so much so that he managed a top 3 finish in the 2021 Ballon d’Or. The combination of the three centre backs and two holding midfielders means that, in the first phase of the build-up, a passing option is always available, allowing him to circulate possession and orchestrate passing moves out from the back. This structure also protects him on the counter, rarely leaving him isolated in transition. Given his inability to cover ground quickly, a move to a more expansive system could leave Jorginho out of sorts, especially with the potential arrival of a new defensive midfielder.
Antonio Rüdiger – Also benefitting from Tuchel’s arrival, Rüdiger’s aggressive style of defending is very well suited to playing in a back-three. The German’s form has earnt him much praise, now seen as one of Europe’s best defenders. His raw speed means he is comfortable defending out wide, knowing the central areas are covered by the other centre backs. Toni’s drives into the opposition half have become a fixture in Tuchel’s Chelsea team, often igniting both the crowd and the team during tough periods of games. Unfortunately, a move to a back-four would restrict his ability to charge out from the back, there being less defensive cover for him in this shape. It’s still yet to be seen whether he could adapt his game to suit the 4-2-2-2, but it’s certainly a formation that plays less to his strengths.
Cesar Azpilicueta – After last year’s Champions League success, Azpilicueta is now regarded amongst many Chelsea fans as a club legend. His loyalty to the club is unquestionable, but so are the signs of his impending decline. He was given a new lease of life by Tuchel, returning to the same RCB position which saw him widely accepted as one of the league’s best defenders during Chelsea’s 2016-17 title-winning campaign under Conte. On the right of a back-four, Reece James would be the clear first-choice option, leaving Dave with a seat on the bench.
Thiago Silva – Thiago Silva has been nothing short of a world class signing for Chelsea. Joining on a free transfer from PSG, he has defied the odds by performing as a top 3 CB in the league at the ripe old age of 37. Despite proving under Frank Lampard that he is perfectly capable in a back-four, the older he gets the less confident you’d feel leaving him with less protection. As his speed declines, his inability to defend the wide areas would be a worry for Tuchel.
Of course, a formation change would impact the whole squad in various ways, but these are the players who stood out to me as the ones who would either benefit or suffer most from a move to the 4-2-2-2.
Notably, every winner is under the age of 30, and every loser, apart from Rudiger, is over the age of 30. Make of that what you will, but it seems that with every day that passes, the squad becomes more suited to a back-four system. To me, the catalyst needed for Tuchel to consider leaving the back-three behind will be the signing of an athletic defensive midfielder. Regardless, Tuchel’s semi-final line up was just one of many examples of his impressive tactical flexibility, having made many in-game tweaks throughout his tenure, most valuably on route to the Champions League final. This adaptability should leave Chelsea fans with no doubts as to the capabilities of the German, as he continues to show he has what it takes to be at Stamford Bridge for years to come.
Fresh off the first Champions League triumph in Chelsea’s history, there were two highly touted, skillful wingers that Abramovich put bids in for, Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura…
When Chelsea won the Champions League on that night in Munich they instantly became the club that all young players looked to as the most attractive option for a summer move. With this, Abramovich knew he would have to splash the cash to maintain Chelsea’s newly found status within Europe.
Chelsea’s depth in the right wing and left wing positions was a problem with the likes of Sturridge and Bertrand having to slot into these positions on occasions. Therefore, Chelsea and the financial backing of Abramovich set out on a mission to sign Lucas Moura from São Paulo. From the age of 18 Lucas Moura was a starter for São Paulo and he racked up 19 goals and 15 assists in 74 appearances in the top flight of Brazil.
Nearly 6000 miles away there was another tricky winger lighting up his league. Eden Hazard had scored 50 times and assisted 53 times in 194 appearances for LOSC Lille. Just like Moura, the Belgian had been frequently playing from the age of just 18 and in the 11/12 season became the driving force behind a Ligue 1 title for Lille. Hazard was rightly awarded the Player of The Year award in Ligue 1 and his 20 goals and 18 assists in 38 matches were mouth-watering statistics for a 21-year-old.
Unless you were a Chelsea scout or a frequent watcher of both the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and Ligue 1 there wasn’t many ways to come to a justification of which player had the better potential. Hazard had the better statistics and basically ‘carried’ Lille to a Ligue 1 title, whereas Moura was slightly younger and the Brazilian hype was at its peak with Neymar also coming to prominence during this time.
On the 22nd of May 2012, just 3 days after winning the Champions League there was a €40m bid put in by Chelsea for Moura according to Juvenal Juvencio (São Paulo President at the time). Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United were also interested but Chelsea were reportedly favourites to sign the Brazilian wonderkid. The bid was rejected by São Paulo and there’s not much clarity as to why it was rejected. The Brazilian club trying to hustle Chelsea out of money as they knew they had more than €40m? They would eventually sell Moura for just €5m more than what Chelsea offered. However, Abramovich is not one for playing games and swiftly moved onto the Belgian youngster lighting up the top flight of French football.
A mere 13 days later, Chelsea agreed terms with Lille for the transfer of Eden Hazard. Less than 2 weeks after a bid being rejected by São Paulo, Chelsea agreed personal terms with Hazard, he completed his medical and was officially announced as a Chelsea player. Chelsea paid £32m for Hazard which meant they actually spent less money than they would have if the deal for Moura went through. The 21-year-old was given over £100,000 a week which seemed an astronomical risk but we all know how it ended up.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing and really makes us wonder what could have happened if we signed Lucas Moura in 2012. There are so many special moments for Eden Hazard in a Chelsea shirt and we would be here all day going over the stuff we could have missed if we chose the Brazilian over the Belgian.
Moura’s career went a different path as he went to PSG and he finally got his move to England in January 2018. Moura has become a high level winger in the last few years at our London rivals but nowhere near the levels of Eden Hazard. Would he have achieved an ounce of what Hazard did at Chelsea if we signed him? Unfortunately, there is no way on earth to predict what Moura’s career would have looked like at Chelsea. However, it can still make us wonder what those 7 years of breathtaking elegance from Eden Hazard would have looked like if we signed Lucas Moura.
When the news surfaced of Chilwell needing surgery on his ACL injury we didn’t even fathom that potentially another injury of that magnitude was right around the corner. Reece James quite literally hobbled off of the pitch and was seen after the game walking only with the aid of some crutches. The injury is rumoured to be his hamstring and these kinds of injuries can vary in severity.
I’m no insider at the club but I can assume some scans will be done ASAP, probably today or tomorrow. Hamstring injuries can be tedious and are often flared up again if overdone and the normal thing would be to ease Reece back into play slowly. However, with 5 games in the next 17 days this is just not possible. This leaves Tuchel and the team in quite the predicament.
Below is a great post surrounding the possibilities of Reece James’ injury and the different types of recovery times for the different grades of hamstring injuries.
The options remaining at right-wing back now read Azpilicueta, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi. Two of these aren’t even defenders… Azpilicueta is slowly declining which is saddening for everyone to see but is still a great option at RCB and to see him against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham at wing back could be dangerous. Pulisic is still adapting to the position and everyone knows with him playing there against the aforementioned teams we could be in serious trouble. Hudson-Odoi didn’t have his finest match today against Brighton but it is evident to see he is more suited to the attacking positions. Both Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi will be in defensive bother trying to mark Mane if they have to play there and this will definitely reduce their attacking output as they would have to deal with a marauding Robertson and Mane.
An injury concern still looms over Andreas Christensen as his back problem flared up again tonight. A back injury like he has usually comes with the need for rest and with the hectic January schedule, it won’t do him any favours continuing to play through the pain. This means Azpilicueta could be forced to play RCB, lessening the options at wing back even further.
The only natural wing back at the club that is fit is Marcos Alonso. Even tonight he was having trouble against Lamptey, imagine the damage that Salah will do come Sunday. The idea was floated around before the game that Tuchel could be getting Reece James adapted to the left wing-back role as a way to prepare him for playing there against Liverpool. Well if that was a tactical plan by Tuchel, that went terribly wrong.
Obviously, we know that Reece James’ scans could all come back positive and he could be fine within a few weeks but what can we do in that time? My thoughts are that Tuchel will use Azpilicueta there against Liverpool to try and stay compact but for the other games throughout January he will use either Hudson-Odoi or Pulisic.
It would be nice if we had maybe Tino Livramento and Tariq Lamptey to replace Reece for the moment but we don’t. There are academy options that fit the profile of a wing back. For example, Dion Rankine is a pacy and dynamic player that has been utilised in this role before in the youth setup. Against Brentford we saw Xavier Simons play there and he put in a decent enough performance to earn some trust from Tuchel. It would be a big risk for academy players to be used in these big matches and I can’t really see it happening apart from the Chesterfield match.
If worst comes to worst and we need to explore the market for wing back options it would be a good idea for Tuchel and his recruitment team to possibly find a player capable of operating on both sides.
Another thorn in the side of a Chelsea side that has been ravaged by Covid and injuries over the past few weeks. The schedule comes under scrutiny and maybe rightly so but now is the time for the team to scrape together a few wins and steady the ship.