Chelsea suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of West Brom in a 5-2 loss at Stamford Bridge. How a team can go from being so defensively resolute in recent weeks to totally capitulating in a game many expected them to win leaves one perplexed. I speak for many Chelsea fans in the sense that no one was expecting to lose to West Brom. However, the manner of the loss is what strikes out and raises the alarm bells. The manner of the loss despite having to deal with the unfortunate red card to Thiago Silva is what can be attributed to the mental fragility that we have seen in the past.
Chelsea’s mental fragility amongst the current crop of players must be addressed quickly by Thomas Tuchel if he is to succeed at Chelsea. Heavy unexpected losses are becoming a feature of Chelsea’s identity.
Antonio Conte experienced a 4-1 defeat on February 5th, 2018 to Watford in a game where Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off. Most certainly fans are not expecting Chelsea to dominate Premier League teams when they are down to ten men, however mere desire and hunger to ensure that the best job possible is still achieved should be imperative and in Chelsea’s case this ceases to exist. This is a Chelsea side who Conte said he struggled to motivate for the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. “To find the right motivation and the right side and right will because when you win the league your mind is still celebrating. This is a big opportunity to win the FA Cup.” This is a game Chelsea ended up losing. Despite the fact that one might argue lacking motivation to win a domestic trophy after securing the league is understandable, it is that very mentality that is affecting the Chelsea players.
Fast forward to Maurizio Sarri and he experienced heavy losses to Bournemouth and Manchester City, 4-0 and 6-0 respectively. Sarri also experienced losses to Arsenal and Tottenham 2-0 and 3-1 respectively. Following the Arsenal loss, Sarri launched a scathing attack of his players’ mentality. He described Chelsea as being “extremely difficult to motivate” and lacking “ferocity” in their game. He went on to add that “This defeat was due to our mentality more than anything else, our mental approach. “But it appears we still seem to lack sufficient motivation, being mentally solid and determination.” This is very important context that at the time many criticized Sarri for publicly showing his frustrations with his side, but it does not make what he said any less true. Every team can lose a game and can even have an off day and lose heavily, but when it starts to become a trend under different regimes, responsibility falls heavily at the hands of the players and their mental toughness.
Frank Lampard seemed to encounter the same issues as the last two managers. Frank Lampard again had his issues in terms of heavy losses as Sheffield United, Leicester and Southampton all managed to inflict heavy defeats on Chelsea whilst Lampard was the manager. Again, despite Lampard never explicitly mentioning it, Kurt Zouma came out and said “For the big matches, the motivation is already there… for the other matches at home, maybe we are less motivated”. The common denominator amongst all these defeats under all these managers is the fact that there seems to be a struggle to motivate players/the right players.
This might be the true test of Tuchel’s ability as a manager, whether or not he can motivate these players and almost change the culture. Heavy losses can occur, so is the nature of an increasingly competitive Premier League, however as the evidence shows Tuchel’s challenge is ensuring these are rarities rather than inevitabilities.