The Football Notebook
Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea, Investigated.
Chelsea Football Club is exceedingly divisive. Almost universally disliked and extremely powerful. Without much of a notable history before 2000 and the most successful club in England after it. A rather lacklustre connection between owner and fans but the very same owner that pours millions of pounds into the club every year.
Regardless of what you think of the Blues, they are pioneers in the world of football. They started the trend of importing foreign players into England, fielded the first starting XI in the Premier League without any English players, and became the first club that catapulted to the pinnacle of the game on the basis of a rich owner. Chelsea is considered ruthless, hiring and firing managers at a faster rate than any other, having an unbelievably large and ethically questionable ‘loan army’, and turning profits on almost every single player they buy.
And now they are coming off the back of a tumultuous season that oversaw a manager change, expensive signings performing inconsistently, and two unexpected finals with very different outcomes.
But 2020/21 is over, and now Chelsea must look to the future. And the first matter they must address is one which every club engages in every year: transfers.
Who to Buy and Sell
The big story this summer has been about Haaland. But before we get to him, the question is who should be sold, and where are problem areas in the team?
The £211M spent last year produced mixed results. Chelsea ended up with a Champions League trophy but were inconsistent in attack. The squad is bloated with mediocrity and in need of somewhat of a revamp. Position by position here is how it is:
Chelsea are already addressing a few of these issues; in goal, Marcus Bettinelli has joined on a free transfer as third-choice to replace Willy Caballero. At centre-back, they are working on a swap deal for Jules Kounde of Sevilla, where Kurt Zouma heads the other way.
But what sticks out like a sore thumb is the distinct lack of natural depth at right-back and striker, and it could also be said that the midfield is a little light. Of course, Azpilicueta can operate at wing-back, but at almost 32 the years are catching up to him and he no longer has the pace to keep up with speedy wingers. You could make an argument for any of the attackers to play up top, either as a proper striker or as a false nine, but then again their struggles in front of goal have been well documented, and Chelsea’s board are determined to get a top-level forward to get them the goals they need.
Emerson is likely to leave, Abraham too, and Ziyech just might.
Emerson leaving is not an issue, but Abraham is. Ziyech is an excellent player, but Chelsea already have more than necessary in the creative forward's department.
Assuming the three leave, and the two aforementioned transfers go through, here is the new squad list:
Now for the solutions. At right wing-back, our recommendation would be Joakim Mæhle. he is young and still has room to improve, and offers something quite different from Reece James.
As one can see from these five stats(obtained via fbref.com), Reece is more dominant in defending but also excellent at crossing, whilst Mæhle is more of a winger converted into a fullback, someone who will cause problems in attack but also be left slightly suspect at the back. But what makes Mæhle so enticing is that he will probably be available for around only £20M from Atalanta.
In midfield, the answer is simple; Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Kante, Jorginho, and Kovacic are the perfect three players you would want to fill Tuchel’s trademark ‘double-six’ roles. All combinations of the three are highly effective, and allow the manager to tailor-make his midfield for specific opponents without any tangible drop in quality.
Loftus-Cheek is also a very different player that could be Tuchel’s wildcard when necessary. At 191 cm tall, he is a true physical presence, technically solid, and willing to put in a defensive shift. When necessary, he can also play further forward, all the way to striker should the occasion call for it. This would not cost Chelsea much(other than a foregone loan fee and his wages), and he has the potential to improve.
Much has been made of the club’s spending. But they have also made a lot of money in the weeks since the transfer window opened.
So far this summer, they have already earned £57M. Add about £20M for Emerson, and £40M for Tammy Abraham, which adds up to £117M - remarkably large and something that has gone relatively unnoticed. Minus £20M for Mæhle, about £30M for Kounde(along with Zouma the other way), and you are left with approximately £67M.
They need a proper number nine, and Haaland is going to be one of the greatest goalscorers football will ever see. But Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches up front. So do they break the bank this summer or wait a year and get him for a bargain?
From the table above one can clearly see Haaland is mind-blowingly good at what he does. He clearly has not developed into the complete footballer but is exactly what Chelsea need: a ruthless goalscorer, who is capable of scoring using a wide variety of finishes, with both feet, and very consistently. He clearly is not afraid of defensive work, pressing in the attacking third very often, and is very much someone who wants to improve and fully utilise his immense potential. His creativity could be better, and his on-the-ball ability too, but that will come with experience.
Haaland is also an excellent athlete. 194 cm, 36.04km/h top speed, well-built, and very explosive. He also has that special sort of arrogance and belief in his own ability possessed only by the true greats. Perhaps most importantly, Haaland is only 21 years old, meaning two things; he will still improve for years to come and can be the greatest player on the planet along with Mbappe for at least the next 10 years.
That is why there is such a large price tag on his head, even with the Covid-19 pandemic driving everyone’s price down.
This year might be Chelsea’s best chance to get their hands on Haaland. They just won the Champions League, have an exciting squad and manager, and are the only team capable of producing the funds for a deal to happen. Next year his rumoured release clause of about £70M will come into effect, meaning every major club will be vying for his services. So to simplify the question: is getting Haaland for one more season and ensuring he goes to Chelsea worth an extra £100M?
In short, yes.
This is an opportunity too good to let go. In an ideal world, Haaland would come in and Ziyech would depart. Competition would remain high in forward positions but no one's playing time would suffer significantly. Chelsea would acquire the services of a future Ballon d’Or winner, add an obscene level of goal-threat to their attack, and become poised to dominate world football for the next decade:
This is the final squad, should the rumoured and recommended transfers go through. Promising youngster Armando Broja might also be part of the first team, and provide backup to Haaland, especially considering he has scored 2 in 2 so far this pre-season:
Last season was a tumultuous one for Chelsea fans. They witnessed a huge summer outlay, topped the table in December, then fell to 9th place and were up against high-flying Atletico Madrid in the RO16 of the CL. But after a manager change, things turned around - they ended up in 4th place, reached an FA Cup Final, then won their second Champions League in dramatic fashion.
Thomas Tuchel became Chelsea manager on 26th January, and he transformed the entire team. The defence became the best in Europe, and playing the Blues is now dreaded rather than anticipated.
1.97 metre tall Edouard Mendy performs the role of sweeper-keeper, coming out to collect loose balls and commanding the space behind the defence impressively. This allows Chelsea to play a very high line, which boxes the opposition into their own half and facilitates an intense structured press.
The two wide centre-backs, Azpilicueta and Rudiger, perform an unorthodox role. They both have the license to push forward into the half-space in between the wing-back and midfielder, where Azpilicueta often crosses from deep, and Rudiger takes on a shot from range - as shown by the fact that he is in the 6th percentile for average distance from goal per shot for centre-backs, at 19.30 yards. Without the ball, they remain compact and in a tight unit with Thiago Silva.
In the double-six pairing, Jorginho is responsible for dropping deep and always being an outlet in possession. This means he is eternally open to pass to and able to get his team out of trouble, whilst also playing quick, short, and incisive passes that break lines and shift the opposition. Kante is given a free role in both possession and out of it. He roams around, often playing simple first-time passes and layoffs. The Frenchman is also responsible for much of the central ball progression, bringing the ball forward through opposition lines and changing the focus from the defensive third to the attacking third.
When defending, Jorginho remains deeper, screening the back three and shielding them from dangerous passes. Kante meanwhile is the aggressor, tackling and intercepting anything that gets near him. The third option, Mateo Kovacic, is a mix between the two, both capable of being the deep playmaker and harassing opponents, and using his genuinely world-class ability to drive the ball forward into the final third.
The wing-backs operate antagonistically, with either Reece James pushing up and Ben Chilwell staying deep or vice versa, with the exception being when ‘Chilly’ runs to the back post for a Reece cross. What is most important with these two is that they work extremely hard to get up and down the pitch, creating a formidable back five when defending and being a danger when going forward. James is responsible for overlapping, generally receiving the ball on the touchline and putting in a low, hard, whipped cross into the box. Chilwell underlaps, looking to get into scoring positions and drag defenders inward to allow someone to overlap himself into space.
The front three is quite fluid, with the wingers switching flanks, the striker dropping deep, and rotation occurring between the three players at any given time. This drags defenders out of position and opens up spaces for the very fast forwards to exploit. Mason Mount is usually the one that drops deep and collects the ball before bringing it forward, but any one of the three attackers on the pitch can do so. Havertz does the same but is tasked with running in behind more often. Timo Werner drops deep the least, usually staying on the shoulder of the last defender and looking to find space closer to goal.
This trio demonstrated exactly these roles in one well-rehearsed routine that won them the Champions League. Mount drops very deep into midfield and receives the ball from Chilwell. As soon as he touches the ball, Werner unleashes his pace and makes a run to the left-wing, dragging a defender with him. Meanwhile, Havertz had been slowly starting a blindside run, used Werner’s run as a distraction, and got onto the end of an inch-perfect pass from the Englishman to then round the keeper and score.
The system changes depending on the line-up, but the general idea remains the same. Pulisic injects that sort of direct running and dribbling ability that is unrivalled in the rest of the squad when he plays. Ziyech has a wand of a left foot, capable of producing sensational passes, and with the skillfulness to back it up too. Hudson-Odoi is a similar player to Pulisic, albeit less refined.
There is a lot of praise to be said of the forwards, but the present question still is how to fix the underwhelming attack.
Of course, Haaland would be hugely beneficial. He would ruthlessly finish the considerable number of chances that Chelsea create, and be an immediate fix for the lack of goals. And he has a physicality that is lacking in any of the Blues’ other forwards. Havertz does have considerable aerial ability but is very lean and unable to bully defenders.
Haaland on the other hand is robust, a machine that bulldozes through the opposition. This can aid in Chelsea’s build-up, as it adds an option when getting the ball forward. Whereas before they needed to rely on runs in behind or a player dropping deep, they could now use Haaland as a holdup player, staying on his man and receiving back-to-goal. The Dortmund player can also press very well, as shown by his 31.3% successful pressures, which places him in the 93rd percentile for forwards.
This all fits Tuchel’s philosophy well, but there is still a decent chance they do not manage to get Haaland this year, if at all. Having said that, This team can still become one with a devastating attack. After all, the attack itself is not the issue. Nor the tactics.
It’s the finishing. And a lot of bad luck.
Timo Werner, the prime case of this, has underperformed his non-penalty expected Goals(which measures the quality of his shots, minus penalty attempts) by 9.1 goals. For reference, for forwards that is the worst underperformance in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1 combined.
He scored 10 goals in the Premier League and Champions League, but had he continued finishing at the same quality as at his last season in the Bundesliga, he would have scored 25 goals - roughly 19 in the Prem and 6 in the CL. And he scored 13 disallowed goals. Eventually, his finishing will improve and reach his previous levels, and the fine margins for which he was found offside will also correct itself.
Kai Havertz also did not do well in front of goal, scoring 6 goals instead of the expected 10. Pulisic had the same story, scoring 6 instead of 8. Overall Chelsea underperformed xG by 10.6 goals - and according to the law of Regression to the Mean, they should score many more goals next year.
So to recap, Chelsea have an extremely solid team that can defend extremely well, but just need to fix their finishing before they can truly fight for every trophy. Tuchel has done an excellent job, and with the core of the team still very young, expect huge improvements across the board - the Stamford Bridge club could dominate for years to come.
The Blues have a long way to go before they can challenge on all fronts. But the potential is immense, and so is their manager. This season should be the year they finally challenge for the Premier League title once again, after a 4-year hiatus from the pinnacle of English football.
They tick every box: a talented squad, quality depth, a brilliant manager, and from top to bottom the club are serial winners. And with a year of experience for the multiple signings last summer under their belt, and Thomas Tuchel getting a full pre-season in, expect big things.
Here is the complete list of predictions we have for Chelsea Football Club in all competitions in 2021/22:
Chelsea fans should be very much looking forward to the upcoming season, as should neutrals who wish to watch how they battle their way to all six trophies they are playing for. Last season was a success, and Tuchel should be looking to build on that to mount a serious challenge for every trophy in sight. Kai Havertz will come good after an excellent end to the season and Euro 2020, Timo Werner’s luck should turn, and with a steady run of games, Hakim Ziyech will get back to his best. And lastly, Haaland coming in would catapult Chelsea to the summit of the beautiful game.
This team is full of artists ready to light up the world stage.