Chelsea are perched on the precipice again. Despite the way it ended under Thomas Tuchel last season, there are so many doubts running into the next one, mainly centring around expectation. They are European champions but how close are they to a Premier League title and how much time will Tuchel get to push them towards Manchester City?.
This is nothing new for Roman Abramovich. Since 2003 he has built an empire of enviable success off the back of a cold, clinical, win or bust mentality. Chelsea are, in effect, myth busters; an exception to the consensus. Giving coaches time to build a squad and implement a philosophy is supposed to lead to glory, that is what we are all told.
Yet the Blues have always done it their way. It may not be liked but it works. There is no time for sentiment at Stamford Bridge and never was that more pertinent that in January when Chelsea’s all time leading goalscorer, Frank Lampard, was sacked and replaced by Tuchel.
It wasn’t that Lampard’s results made that decision in any way unusual but rather what it represented. It is worth noting that the two points in Chelsea’s modern managerial history when they attempted to move in a more progressive, longer-viewing direction, Lampard and Andre Villas-Boas in 2011/12, have been followed immediately by a Champions League win a matter of months later after both men were sacked. It is as if Chelsea are being vindicated in their instant success ideology.
Lampard’s arrival was contextualised by a transfer ban which forced him to look inward and finally utilise Chelsea’s vast reserves of academy talent. It was his trust in youth and familiarity with the club, rather than any concrete success or evidence there of, which attracted Abramovich in the first place.
Once the ban was lifted, the spending began, but Lampard always maintained a perception of building a team out of ‘Chelsea DNA’. Despite Tuchel winning the Champions League and reaching the FA Cup final with Mason Mount and Reece James as key cogs in his side, the banishment of Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi has fed into a different narrative.
Tuchel has found his best formula and given balance and structure to a squad rich in quality. Lampard never quite got that far. If Chelsea are missing anything, it is a top striker, Jorginho was their top scorer last season with seven goals and all of them were penalties.
Their recruitment needs to be effective. Lampard believed he had solved the striker issue twice but he has hadn’t. Abraham never looked out of his depth but it quickly became apparent that he couldn’t propel them back to the heights of 2017, when they last won the league with Antonio Conte in the dugout and Diego Costa in attack.
All roads then led to Timo Werner, a prolific scorer with RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga who hasn’t been able to recreate his best form in England. While he became a valuable asset for both Lampard and Tuchel in other ways, he failed in replacing the source of goals Costa left in the same way both Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuaín did.
Nuance isn’t really on the menu for Chelsea and they know it. Pandemic or not, they are going in hard for a new striker and they want top of the range. That sort of approach hasn’t always worked, as Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres can attest but they appear to have learnt from the fact that age and fitness were not in either’s favour. Preliminary talks with Borussia Dortmund over Erling Haaland have already reportedly begun, although things are not progressing well.
Dortmund quite rightly are not wanting to sell two huge assets in one summer and with Jadon Sancho on his way to Manchester United, that makes any deal for Haaland extremely difficult. That said, talk of a £75million release clause in the soon-to-be 21-year-old’s contract kicking in next summer may make now the only time for them to get a price that truly reflects a striking sensation who has barely stopped scoring since scoring a hat-trick on his full Champions League debut for RB Salzburg in September 2019.
Haaland is intelligent in terms of movement and positioning and a ferocious finisher. He fits the bill for Chelsea with droves of creativity slotting in behind him. Alternatively, a return for Romelu Lukaku may be easier to swing despite his open desire to stay at Inter, with financial problems taking hold at San Siro.
The pool in which Chelsea are fishing in is small. They may have the money this summer but transfers are infinitely more complex these days, without even factoring in the new climate due to COVID-19. Harry Kane may be available, for example, but the chance of Tottenham selling to a London rival is almost nonexistent. Chelsea cannot afford to gamble on a player from a tier below the very top once again, with United, City and Liverpool likely to be out in front as things stand.
Abramovich will be getting restless. Chelsea looked like taking a longer, more thoughtful route under Lampard but quickly lost patience with him. Tuchel vindicated the change by winning the Champions League but if last time is anything to go by, he won’t have credit in the bank for long. Roberto Di Matteo replaced Villas-Boas nine years ago after a stunning European campaign culminated in victory over Bayern Munich in their home stadium. He was backed by a spending spree which included Eden Hazard but didn’t last beyond the following October.
An elite striker changes everything for Chelsea but they’re still fighting a losing battle for Haaland. If they can attract someone, they’ll be capable of conquering England again, but being given the tools isn’t always a blessing for any Blues boss because expectation can swallow them whole.
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