Starting the season as the reigning Champions League title holders, Chelsea liked their chances of challenging for the Premier League title. To further boost Chelsea’s odds, they went out and signed one of the best strikers over the past few years in Romelu Lukaku. Despite all the hype, a tough December and early January has all but confirmed that Manchester City will win the league.
Going into this season, Chelsea were riding their hot hand that propelled them to their victory in the Champions League and with the addition of Lukaku, it seemed like the league title was theirs. Thomas Tuchel’s defensive tactics proved to be exactly what the team needed after Frank Lampard’s tumultuous time at the helm.
Tuchel was able to find a way to get elite defensive play from defenders that many felt weren’t up to par with a true title challenging defensive side. The midfield that Tuchel instituted with N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho proved to be the best midfield pairing in the world. While the attack wasn’t truly elite, it was still an efficient side that relied more on wingers and midfielders to score.
Lukaku’s addition seemed to be the logical evolution of Tuchel’s system, with an elite striker elevating this team from a great one to the world’s best. It really seemed like Chelsea could have reclaimed the Prem title for the first time since 2017.
Despite missing Lukaku for a decent amount of time in the early part of the season, Chelsea kept up with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City for the title. However, since December, the wheels have completely fallen off which has resulted in Chelsea winning just three games since December. Chelsea’s slide has been surprising given how consistent Tuchel has had the team performing.
While there are still some positives with how the team is set up, it feels the team has run into a wall and doesn’t seem there is a path to success in the Prem. From some players being unable to fit into the team to Tuchel’s refusal to adapt his strategy to issues, there are plenty of issues bogging down Chelsea.
Most players from last year’s side remained with the club and have put in some good performances, especially Reece James. Not totally his fault, it seems that a lot of the struggles that Chelsea has had these past two months have been placed at the feet of Lukaku.
Lukaku is, without a doubt, one of the best strikers in the world and his time at Inter Milan proved to be just the place for him to prove himself. He is still that striker, despite struggling with injuries and has had great performances. It just seems that his style of play doesn’t fit in with the way Tuchel expects his strikers to play.
Timo Werner and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang represent the two different types of strikers that Tuchel has used across his career. Lukaku is neither, as he is not a player who is involved in hold up play like Werner and doesn’t attack from the wing like Aubameyang. A excellent play finisher who needs only an inch of space to score, Lukaku hasn’t been given the support necessary to find those chances in this system.
Still one of the signings of the summer window, Lukaku will come through for Chelsea, but both sides need to find the perfect balance. It would be crazy for Chelsea to discard Lukaku and his play to better fit Tuchel’s style, at the same time, Lukaku should try to be more involved in build up play.
Tuchel won The Best Coach Of the Year award this past week due to his incredible job in turning Chelsea from a middling side to a Champions League winner. He thoroughly deserved his award for his work but it does seem like his tactics have been figured out.
While Tuchel’s system still has Chelsea near the top of the league in both offensive and defensive stats, the team has stagnated recently with the offense seemingly clogged. Tuchel’s formations have always looked to have three forwards involved in attacking play and require everyone to provide space. It all works great when the right players are there and defenses don’t know what to expect.
Similar to Liverpool and Klopp’s struggles after winning the league, Tuchel’s system to a certain extent has been figured out and like Klopp, it may be time to retool the formation and players used. Rather than trying to pigeonhole players like Hakim Ziyech and Lukaku, allow them to have more freedom given the already incredible midfield that Chelsea has. For the most part, the style that Chelsea plays with asks more from their full backs than wingers which will always affect creativity.
Without a doubt, Tuchel is still a very talented coach but it feels like his system has hit a period of stagnation and to truly help his side evolve, he should be willing to tweak it. While he is not in danger of being sacked, if the team is serious about trying to repeat as Champions League winners, Tuchel must adapt.
Chelsea, when compared to Manchester United and Tottenham, aren’t in a terrible situation like those clubs but it would be wrong to say that this season hasn’t been disappointing. The tense dynamic between Lukaku and Tuchel has overshadowed the club, as it has played a part in the declining play. To at least achieve some of their ambitions, Chelsea needs a new spark of life.
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