Chelsea had a successful week in which they reached their first Champions League quarter-final since 2014 and progressed to the next round of the FA Cup to keep their hopes of a cup double alive.
As this season begins to reach its pinnacle Chelsea is forced to come to terms with what this season means for their future and to begin planning for it. The issue is that the team has been so starkly different under Thomas Tuchel than it was under Frank Lampard that any conclusions that were drawn under the management of the latter could justifiably be considered false at this point.
Under Frank Lampard the team defended with such recklessness and a lack of professional decency that every single member of the club’s hierarchy had decided that the number one need that the club had in the transfer market over the summer would be a defender.
That has changed under Thomas Tuchel to such an extent that it is beginning to look like it would make little sense for Chelsea to sign a center back over the summer. Particularly, given that the side seem to be having the polar opposite issues to Frank Lampard’s, they cannot score.
To say that Thomas Tuchel’s side supports the theories of pragmatic and defensive minded coaches would be an understatement. Though he and Lampard both have incredibly flawed sides the fact that Tuchel’s version simply do not concede goals guarantees them points even if they do not score. Lampard’s sides would score in flashes but were far more consistent in terms of their ability to concede and that turned out to be Lampard’s downfall. Moments of brilliance cannot be counted on and in such, particularly in a competitive sport with the world’s most competitive owner, might not even be considered to be brilliant at all.
This then leads us to the real issue. Chelsea has no idea what it is they need to do in the summer in order to improve the squad. They are now likely the third best side in England. In terms of depth and talent and with a manager who is both intellectually interested as well as pragmatic only Manchester City and Liverpool can argue that they have better overall situations. Manchester United boast a peculiarly lopsided squad and a manager who isn’t interested in winning trophies. Tottenham and Arsenal then appear to be doing their best to embarrass the good residents of North London as much as they can.
With a solid goalkeeper and a good and disciplined defense it now seems likely that Chelsea will not be adding a central defender in the summer. If they did it would only add to the logjam that they already had to move Tomori out of and so would make little sense.
A striker always seems to be the solution that people suggest but that is in part because buying strikers is so fun. They’re charismatic and interesting and they’re always favorites of the viewers but I wonder if that’s what would fix the side and move them to the next level.
Timo Werner has been about as good a footballer and professional as is possible for a player who doesn’t score many goals. He certainly contributes more than almost any other striker in world football with his goal record. His tireless effort against Atletico Madrid is exactly the sort of thing that will be missed by the statisticians but Chelsea simply would not have won that match without him.
In an effort to encourage teamwork and a lack of selfishness on the football pitch I have always suggested that any sort of goal involvement be it a goal or an assist should be counted as the same. I would even be willing to expand that to tackles within the opposing third. With these statistics counted suddenly it seems that Werner is as important as Chelsea bought him to be.
We also mustn’t forget the audacious ridiculousness of this year. Everyone gets a mulligan on it in terms of our patience. Coronavirus changed football. It condensed and hurried the season in a ridiculous fashion and made it even harder for foreign players to adapt to their time in England. House guests? Nope. Visiting family members? Nope. Trips home on days off? Nada.
The same suggestion for patience obviously applies to all the summer signings.
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The question then becomes one of the arms race that is football in England. Chelsea may be forced into buying Erling Haaland even if it doesn’t make a ton of sense tactically or fiscally simply because if he is to sign for Manchester City or Manchester United then the route to the top of the league will be blocked off for the better part of the next decade. If he moves to Real Madrid or Juventus that’s different but it seems that the only league that supports multiple clubs with enough economic strength to add the massive Norwegian striking monster is the Premier League and Chelsea simply can’t afford to let him join a rival.
That though doesn’t mean he’s actually the right signing for our squad. It may be smart and work against our enemies tactically but is anyone actually suggesting that a side with Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount is lacking in firepower? No. They haven’t clicked at times in which case I refer you to my point regarding the complications of COVID-19.
The truth is what I think Chelsea is missing is actually right in front of us. Chelsea is missing a complete central midfield player. A player who has enough of an engine to lead and protect the defense while also contributing going forward. They need to have an eye for goal and also be good in the tackle. They should be able to pass vertically with ease and vision as well. That is the player that Chelsea should add this summer. That player to partner Kante in midfield is what would make the biggest difference. There aren’t many of them in the world but Chelsea should be scouting Milinkovic-Savic, Boubakary Soumare, Eduardo Camavinga and Ryan Gravenberch.
One of them would be the player who moved the needle the most for Chelsea in terms of improvement.
That though ignores one of the biggest other questions. What about the loan army? Gallagher, Tomori and Guehi have all looked magnificent on loan. How will their arrivals change the squad going forward? Could Mount just play that position? Possibly. Chelsea don’t even know what their formation may be next year so the ability to plan is absolutely affected by that. That very fact possibly is what aids our rivals the most in the chase for the Premier League that Chelsea must compete for next season.
Chelsea has a huge amount to figure out before the beginning of next season but the good news is that they are at the very least reaching the end of this one in competitive position and with the sort of spirit that Chelsea is supposed to carry in spades.