Chelsea’s defense has been one of the best in the world since Thomas Tuchel stepped foot onto the Cobham training pitch for the first time in January. It took him just days to transform the Blues’ leaky back line into one of the continent’s most stubborn units. The German went on to lead his new club to European glory just a few months into his tenure. Now, in his first full season in charge at Stamford Bridge, Tuchel is continuing to build on the foundation he laid down toward the end of the last campaign. Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League after 12 games played as its brilliant three-man defense has guided the side through some tough early season fixtures.
It’s difficult for the current Blues to avoid comparisons to the greatest Chelsea teams in history after winning the club’s second ever Champions League trophy last season. The defensive stability in the side has seen them most commonly associated with the 2004/05 Jose Mourinho-led Blues. The legendary side won the double (Premier League and League Cup) that season while shattering records en route to said trophies. Mourinho’s men conceded just 15 goals in 38 league games, a record that still stands. That begs the question: how does this year’s defense stack up?
Chelsea’s current defense has often been compared to Jose Mourinho’s legendary back line in 2004/05, how do they stack up against one another?
The ’04/05 team, widely regarded as the Premier League’s greatest ever defense, was large in-part so fantastic because of the style it played. The Blues sat back and hit opponents on the counterattack; Mourinho’s brilliant defensive tactics took English football by storm during his first season in charge. This highlighted the stars Chelsea possessed at the back. The centerback pairing of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho was especially great during the Portuguese’s reign and they are now thought to be two of their generation’s finest defenders for these accomplishments.
The Blues—anchored at the back by the aforementioned Captain, Leader, Legend—conceded just three goals in their opening 12 league matches (the benchmark due to the current season). Chelsea allowed two goals from open play during the period in question as Southampton’s James Beattie and West Brom’s Zoltan Gera found the back of Petr Cech’s net. The other was Manchester City’s Nicolas Anelka, whose early penalty sealed the Blues’ only defeat of the entire domestic league campaign. They didn’t concede a fourth goal until matchweek 13 against Fulham.
Chelsea’s record during the opening 12-match period was the exact same as it is right now: nine wins, two draws and a loss. Ironically enough, both the ’04/05 and ’21/22 teams suffered their losses 1-0 at the hands of Man City. It’s also important to take into account the quality of the opposition. Mourinho’s men faced off against three of the eventual top six finishers (Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton). It’s obviously impossible to predict who will finish in the same spots during the current season, so the same metric will be used for this campaign. Tuchel’s team has also taken on three of the top six (Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal). At the time of publishing, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers rounded out the top spots in the table.
The German’s Blues have conceded four goals in their first 12 games of the current Premier League campaign. Interestingly enough, Burnley’s Matej Vydra is the only player to find the back of the net from open play. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse beat Edouard Mendy from the penalty spot; Man City’s Gabriel Jesus scored off a deflection from a corner. Antonio Rudiger has taken on the Terry role of being the team’s terrific iron man. The German centerback has started 11 league matches at left centerback for the Blues and he’s earned an average match rating of 7.05 during that time.
While the ’21/22 Chelsea defense is statistically a bit worse off than its older counterpart, context levels the playing field a bit in the grand scheme of things. Tuchel’s men don’t play a defensive style of football, regardless of what PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino would like you to believe. The Blues place an emphasis on perfecting their craft with the ball at their own feet for a majority of each match, ranking third in the English top flight (58.5 percent) in total possession. Tuchel also deploys a relentless press when out of possession. His gegenpressing tactics do play a huge role in Chelsea’s defensive excellence, but all stats point toward the Blues being an attacking side. According to FotMob, the reigning Champions of Europe rank amongst the league leaders in a plethora of key attacking categories. They sit second in big chances created, expected goals, goals and shots on target. All of this goes to show that having an excellent defensive record does not always mean a team claims to be defense-oriented, as Pochettino suggested.
The ’04/05 team’s mediocre 17 goals scored in the first 12 games goes to show that defense was surely Mourinho’s specialty. Tuchel’s squad is getting it done on both ends of the pitch as they’ve nearly doubled that tally (30 goals) in the same amount of time. This looks even more impressive considering the club’s superstar No. 9, Romelu Lukaku, has missed nearly half of those clashes.
There is a legitimate debate about which Chelsea side had the better defense, but nobody can question the two attacks. The ’04/05 team managed just 72 goals throughout its 38-match campaign. The ’21/22 squad is on pace to find the back of the net an astonishing 95 times. For reference, Carlo Ancelotti’s ’09/10 double-winning bunch set the club record for goals scored in a Premier League season with 103. Man City (’17/18) currently holds the league record with 106. This means the current side could head down the home stretch with a chance to break both club and league records for goals scored and goals allowed.
It goes without saying there is still a long way to go in the season. Anything can happen and the Blues still have a lot of work to do if they want to break any aforementioned Premier League records. However, Tuchel’s Chelsea is beginning to look like one of the club’s best ever sides. The Champions League win last season put the team on the radar, the Blues are now exceeding the expectations set out for them thus far this year. Chelsea has already won the UEFA Super Cup and the Blues still have the opportunity to win silverware on five different fronts. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and look at the bigger picture, Chelsea supporters are currently witnessing greatness. Regardless of whether or not this team brings home more silverware or sets records, it’s already shaping up to be one of the club’s greatest seasons in its storied history.
Do you think the Blues have a chance to break their own records this year? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!