Chelsea FourFourTwo preview and prediction: Have the Blues really got what it takes to be title contenders?
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was the inspiration behind Champions League success last season and has proved Pep Guardiola's kryptonite. Time to find the consistency across the 2021/22 Premier League, then...
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From the kings of Europe to Premier League champions – logic tells us such an achievement should happen in reverse order. But then this is Chelsea (opens in new tab), where logic is often defied for so many reasons. If Thomas Tuchel follows up Champions League success by lifting the Premier League trophy next May, few will be surprised by the order in which his major moments were delivered. The question, of course, is: can he do it?
Standing in his way will be Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City (opens in new tab) side that Tuchel’s Chelsea beat three times in the space of six weeks last season: an FA Cup semi-final, a league clash and, saving the best until last, the Champions League final. However, they will also have to overcome themselves. Looking at the shortcomings of Tuchel’s team, it was one thing to defeat the likes of Real Madrid (opens in new tab) en route to sealing continental glory, but seemingly quite another to face Aston Villa (opens in new tab) on the final day of the season with a top-four place at stake… and lose convincingly.
That complacency, or arrogance – call it what you will – continues to be their Achilles’ heel. Last term, under Frank Lampard and Tuchel, Chelsea lost to a misfiring Wolves (opens in new tab), a soon-to-be-relegated West Bromwich Albion (opens in new tab) and a turgid Arsenal (opens in new tab) (twice), and also dropped points at home to Southampton (opens in new tab) and Brighton (opens in new tab).
Swing those particularly grim results in Chelsea’s favour, and the daunting 19-point gap to Manchester City turns to a more respectable three (and that’s not taking into account a few other shoddy displays). The prevailing theory is that titles are won by beating your rivals. For Chelsea, who faced the rest of the top seven once apiece under Tuchel and took 16 points from those six fixtures, it’s about how they navigate meetings with teams further down the table.
There is no doubting the capabilities of the German’s squad – they’re European champions, after all. But the Champions League is a misnomer; it’s a cup competition, once you’re at the business end, and the Premier League is a different conundrum for this team to solve. Winning a division requires attitude and application, which haven’t always been Chelsea’s finest qualities in recent years.
A title challenge is a prerequisite for the Blues. They should benefit from a year's development following a hectic 2020/21 summer in which they spent some £200m on new talent. Now, after a slow start to the transfer window, they need consistency, if they are to twist the knife into Guardiola’s wounded side.
The five-point plan
1 Don’t sack the boss
Chelsea did it last season and ended up as champions of Europe, so there’s an instant contradiction. But when the same thing happened in 2012, Roberto Di Matteo was binned within six months. Unlike Di Matteo, Tuchel has pedigree. Managerial stability has hindered Chelsea’s ambitions to become a dominant force, and it would be a travesty if Tuchel became a one-hit wonder as well.
2 Keep the wing-backs
Throughout Chelsea’s history, they’ve often looked best playing athletic, dynamic widemen – a tradition going back to the days of Tommy Docherty’s ‘Little Diamonds’. Glenn Hoddle had success with it in the 1990s; Antonio Conte won the title with Victor Moses – who joined Spartak Moscow permanently this summer – and Marcos Alonso; and Tuchel’s wing-backs helped to deliver the Champions League. It gives this side better balance, too.
Timo Werner gets his goal 💙A brilliant first half display from the German striker sees him double the Blues' lead 📺 Watch on Sky Sports PL📱 Follow #CHENEW here: https://t.co/wdLOhwjsnk📲 Download the @SkySports app! pic.twitter.com/YduLcdbr6rFebruary 15, 2021
3 Trust in Timo
So, he only scored six league goals last season, and gave assistant referees sore arms, but relax: before joining Chelsea, Werner had hit 78 goals in four Bundesliga seasons. That isn’t just a freak hot streak. He underscored his xG by a whopping 5.9 last term, more than any other player in the Premier League, but do you know what that means? He was getting chances. Believe: a more confident Werner should thrive in 2021/22.
4 Make Mount captain
Chelsea were looking to build around a homegrown talent even before John Terry left. Mason Mount can be that talent. There’s a lot to be said for a top academy product with superstar qualities that reinforce the culture of any football club. Mount is the new breed at Chelsea, so give him the armband – the future is now.
5 Show a united front
Has anyone succeeded in doing this at Chelsea over the past 20 years? Carlo Ancelotti came closest, but some of football’s biggest names have suffered – even a club legend, in Frank Lampard. Chelsea are European champions and have a young squad heading into the next cycle of its development, so a fractured dressing room is the last thing they need in 2021/22.
FFT verdict: 2nd
Tuchel has found the antidote for Pepitis. Now Chelsea’s alchemist must deliver more silverware.
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