Let’s rewind to the summer of 2021, when Thomas Tuchel was at a high with Chelsea. The London club won the Champions League and strengthened its front line with the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan. There, the Belgian netted over 20 goals in each of the past two seasons.
Thomas Tuchel transformed the club’s fortunes as manager after he sacked Frank Lampard. Now, it appeared to possess every necessary tool to break Liverpool and Manchester City’s monopoly in England.
A disappointing 2021/22 campaign
Claiming the season did not unfold as predicted is a massive understatement. At numerous points since February, the club faced sanctions from the British government. In fact, Chelsea could hardly conduct normal operations. Subsequently, the club found its entire existence under question. Eventually, the British government allowed the sale of the club from Roman Abramovich to partial Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly after 19 years under the Russian oligarch’s ownership.
And that was only off the pitch. On it, Chelsea’s $100-million Lukaku struggled to deliver the performances up front to justify his exorbitant fee. His signing in the summer of 2021 sparked much optimism among the club’s supporters. The Blues landed a proven forward. Yet, such optimism evaporated swiftly. The Belgian failed to emulate the superb goal tally from his previous two-year spell at Inter.
Then, his explosive Sky Italia interview revealed he regretted leaving the San Siro in the summer of 2021. His inflammatory comments drew ire among the Chelsea faithful.
Tuchel’s revolution did not live up to the promise from his first six months at the club. For example, he failed to lead Chelsea to any trophies this past season. Even then, few at Stamford Bridge lay the blame on the German. He navigated difficult circumstances with the Roman Abramovich-sale and that ensuing saga. He secured Chelsea’s spot in the top four and helped the club to two domestic cup finals. The only difference between the ‘failure’ of no trophies and two cups was a pair of penalty shootouts.
Truthfully, you cannot ask much more from a manager given the situation.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea rift
Clearly, much was out of his control last season. This season, he is in full command. The inner turmoil at Stamford Bridge stabilized significantly since May as the club secured new ownership and loaned Lukaku back to Inter. With two massive impediments resolved, Tuchel can once again direct his focus to getting the best out of his players and preparations for the upcoming season.
By his own admission, though, that appears to be going poorly.
After defeats to Charlotte and Arsenal, Tuchel stated that he “cannot guarantee that we will be ready” come the start of the season. While it’s difficult to read too deeply into preseason results, Chelsea’s performances throughout the summer certainly seem consistent with Tuchel’s remarks. Frustration with Timo Werner is not helping the German’s rapport in the dressing room, either.
“I’m surprised. I would be very happy as a young guy having a contract at Chelsea. I would be one of the happiest people on the planet. If he said this, I don’t understand.”
– Thomas Tuchel on Timo Werner’s comments this week. https://t.co/YQHVGq6Qkq pic.twitter.com/s33a476a10
— Simon Phillips (@siphillipssport) July 21, 2022
Yes, key players left the club. And, yes, other first team players intend to follow them out the door. Also, Chelsea missed out on its transfer targets. But, unlike most of the calamity that ensued earlier in the calendar year, these matters fall very much under his realm of influence and responsibility. Chelsea may have lost the likes of Rudiger and Christensen. However, it also acquired a world-class center back in Kalidou Koulibaly and a proven Premier League forward in Raheem Sterling.
In purely footballing terms, Chelsea’s situation was arguably far more dire when he took charge in January 2021. Yet he still managed to guide the club to a top-four finish and improbable Champions League success with victories over Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the process. Therefore, it is puzzling that Tuchel has voiced such dismay over the quality of his squad and insisted that it required further signings to remain competitive.
It’s understandable that the heavy transfer activity across the city is unsettling. Tottenham conducted shrewd business with the additions of Richarlison, Yves Bissouma and Ivan Perisic. Consequently, it looks poised to build off its top-four finish last season. Antonio Conte’s track-record of winning titles at his previous clubs, including the Premier League with Chelsea in 2017, further elevates the excitement of Spurs fans ahead of the season.
In similar fashion, Arsenal’s moves for Manchester City pair Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have the club well placed to challenge for a top-four spot once again this season.
None of that, however, obstructs Thomas Tuchel’s ability to prepare Chelsea for the upcoming season. His squad may not be at the level necessary to challenge City and Liverpool, but certainly maintains the quality to finish comfortably in the top four and make another deep cup run as it did last season. That is the minimum standard, and now that his club has resolved most of its problems from the last several months, Tuchel will find the ice under his feet a lot thinner if his side cannot meet it.
PHOTO: Chris Lee – Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images