3 August 2022

Cause For Concern At Chelsea?  (Sky Sports)

Thomas Tuchel“There is still some way to go,” was Thomas Tuchel’s realistic assessment of the amount of work Chelsea have to do in the final week of pre-season to be ready for the start of their Premier League campaign at Everton on Saturday Night Football.

The Chelsea boss was speaking after back-to-back wins over Udinese but clearly still felt the effects of, in his words, a tiring and exhausting tour of the United States.

During that leg of their preparations for the new season, Tuchel had called his players “not good enough” and “not competitive” in their humbling 4-0 defeat to Arsenal.

The German has also voiced his frustration at his side’s transfer business, with Raphinha and Jules Kounde among the ones to have got away in a summer in which Tuchel said Chelsea had an “urgent appeal for a huge amount of quality players” to be signed.

The Todd Boehly/Clearlake Capital ownership era has dawned but the impact of the sanctions imposed on the club at the end of Roman Abramovich’s tenure have been felt beyond the Russian’s exit. It means Chelsea head into the new season with concerns over whether they can replicate, let alone improve on, the third-place finish and couple of cup finals they achieved last time around.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling have been signed and look like impressive additions. However, with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen gone on free transfers and Romelu Lukaku loaned back to Inter Milan, those two new arrivals will need supplementing before the transfer window closes on September 1.

There is also uncertainty around the futures of a number of other players at the club, including Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Marcos Alonso, captain Cesar Azpilicueta and ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, with Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Frenkie de Jong and Denzel Dumfries among the players Chelsea are reportedly chasing.

It all adds up to a major overhaul when Manchester City and Liverpool, the top two Chelsea would like to be closing in on, have built on their fantastic foundations.

The gap between Chelsea and champions City stretched to 21 points last season, two more than the year before. With City’s attack now bolstered by Erling Haaland and Chelsea still trying to find their feet after their summer shake-up, it is no surprise Tuchel wasn’t interested in talking about the title.

His focus has to be on the immediate opening weeks of the season, where, despite their issues, Chelsea must find a way to get off to a good start if they’re to keep pace with their rivals – not only City and Liverpool but also Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United, three sides rightly optimistic of improvement this term.

However, Chelsea have been presented with an extremely tricky run of home games up to the World Cup break, with Tottenham, Leicester, West Ham, Liverpool, Wolves, Man Utd and Arsenal coming to Stamford Bridge in that order before the pause in November.

Chelsea had the weakest home record of the Big Six last season, winning just nine of their 19 games there and suffering damaging defeats to Brentford (1-4) and Arsenal (2-4) in the final weeks of the season, as well as the 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter final.

Early setbacks on their own patch will only ramp up the pressure and frustration after a less-than-ideal pre-season.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Ben Chilwell’s return to fitness means Chelsea once again have two of the finest wing-backs in the division available for selection, with Reece James on the other side set for a standout season.

Key man N’Golo Kante also looked healthy against Udinese, after frustrating niggles throughout 2021/22 stunted his game time, while Conor Gallagher will bring fresh energy to the midfield following his excellent season on loan at Crystal Palace.

Up front, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Sterling combined well as a fluid front three in Italy – although goal-scoring and chance conversion remains a clear weakness of this side which needs addressing. Boehly, who has shown real willingness to back Tuchel in the transfer market, is sure to strengthen the squad further before the window shuts.

Plus, there is a feeling the congested schedule either side of the World Cup break could see the Premier League’s top two struggle to post the kind of meteoric points totals they have in recent seasons, which could play into Chelsea’s hands, too. If there is more margin for error, the prospect of someone toppling City and Liverpool becomes a bigger possibility.

Approaching the new campaign, it feels like something remarkable would have to happen for Chelsea to be celebrating a first Premier League title in 2023 after a five-season drought. Perhaps the World Cup break could be that catalyst.

But if there is to be any let up from the leading duo, Chelsea will have their work cut out to ensure they are the best of the rest and ready to capitalise. Tired and exhausted? Tuchel and his players are just at the start of a long and challenging road to return to success.