The January transfer window is now firmly shut and that prompts new questions at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel for the next transfer window. What will the squad look like? Which players will stick? Who will move on? The Blues’ stable of loan army players would likely have greeted the firing of Frank Lampard with a cautious optimism. On the one hand, gone was the man who had successfully integrated the most youth players ever at Chelsea and firmly established a route from the academy and loan army to the first team. On the other hand, in comes a new manager in Tuchel who is a clean slate to impress and is himself. He’s not scared of playing young players, proven by his time at Borussia Dortmund and PSG.
One major criticism of the Chelsea board in recent years has to be that there has been no concrete path forward for the club stylistically. Different managers bring with them different styles of play, which require different types of players. Not only does that mean players are brought in under one manager then rendered useless by another, but it adds that extra layer of difficulty to integrate young players into the first team because the youth squads cannot implement the constant changing of systems.
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The club used to have Michael Emenalo as its Director of Football, but his departure after a 10-year stint at the club dealt a big blow to Chelsea’s recruiting and big picture plan. Seen as one of the strongest links between Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea first team towards the end of his time, Emenalo was the technical director who helped bring in the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and current club captain, Cesar Azpilicueta. There was also Juan Mata, Diego Costa, N’Golo Kante and Willian who came in while Emenalo was at the club.
While Emenalo cannot be attributed all of the successes and failures attached to the players who arrived at the club in his time, he most certainly played a role in the capture of their signatures to varying degrees. He highlighted future stars and he helped continue a bigger picture vision for Chelsea. All of those players above can play in multiple positions or styles, indicative of a wider plan that gave a sense of continuity in a club that constantly changed managers.
Under Antonio Conte, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso became two of the best wingbacks in the world and saw their careers rejuvenated. When Maurizio Sarri arrived and did away with the wingbacks, it saw Moses move on and Alonso shift to a defender—arguably and ironically his worst position. As an aside, whoever told Alonso to be a defender robbed this generation of one of the most lethal strikers. Oh what could have been. Sarri is no different, his arrival brought Jorginho as a midfield metronome who then saw his role reduced under Lampard. Sarri also changed the tactical movement of Kante, is it mere coincidence that since then the number of thigh and calf injuries the Frenchman has sustained has skyrocketed as he was asked to be more of a box-to-box midfielder?
The Blues’ board obviously wanted to steady that boom-bust cycle of changing formations and players, but it has proven to be a whole lot of nothing so far. That was seemingly part of the reason Petr Cech was brought in as a replacement for Emenalo, albeit a few years after the latter left his post. The aim to try and re-institute the type of Chelsea spine the Czech goalkeeper was a part of is a noble one, in spite of its challenges.
Yet, in comes Tuchel and it’s the same cycle.
The German’s arrival has brought back wingbacks in the early going and while it’s a blessing to have Alonso’s attacking prowess back in the line-up, it means that there are now five defenders on the pitch at once. That doesn’t sound like an issue until you look at the last purchases the Blues have made in the transfer market. They have mostly all been attack-minded players who operate in the same spaces. In Tuchel’s wingback system, there are just two attacking midfielders who play off the central striker. Even if Callum Hudson-Odoi is counted as a wingback, that still leaves Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and possibly Timo Werner vying for two spots.
When building a team, every manager wants elite depth. Look no further than Manchester City as an example of players who would start anywhere else coming off the bench. Managers envy that depth. Chelsea is certainly close to that, but with all of those elite players starting and then first off the bench, where does that leave youth? Is the ‘youth revolution’ over at Stamford Bridge just as it was beginning or is it merely taking a new shape?
Part one of this series will focus on the players currently at the club in the first team squad, as it is the natural place to start. Note that Tammy Abraham, Mount and Hudson-Odoi are all excluded, as most can presume they will feature heavily in Tuchel’s teams. One note of caution could be attached to Abraham if the Blues do go out and sign Erling Braut Haaland. Another noticeable name absent from the list above is that of Reece James. Read part one (coming Thursday) to find out what the prospects look like for James and two others on the periphery of the Chelsea team.
Follow along over the course of the next three articles to see what the prospects of the notable younger players and loan army are under Tuchel at Chelsea.