Problems with a big signing, a slump in form and results, and cut adrift of the Premier League leaders. Sound familiar, Chelsea fans? That’s because it is.
Thomas Tuchel has blamed bad luck and bad scheduling in terms of Covid cases, injuries and the fixture list. But there have also been bad decisions from the head coach, who must be careful not to allow the start of his second year at the club to spin into what has been an all too familiar cycle of discontent.
When Chelsea were soundly beaten by Leicester City almost a year ago to the day, in what proved to be Frank Lampard’s final game in charge, the west London side had dropped 19 points over the course of 12 games.
Fast-forward 12 months and Saturday’s defeat to Man City meant Chelsea have now dropped 18 points over their past 12 games in the Premier League. The table looks far more encouraging for Chelsea, of course, but they have now fallen 13 points behind leaders City as the German’s first anniversary at the club approaches.
When Lampard was sacked, Chelsea were nine points behind City and 11 behind Man United, who were top of the table at the time. But, crucially in terms of the former midfielder’s sacking, his team sat in ninth place. Any Chelsea manager will find himself in trouble if his side are mid-table, no matter how temporarily, but there were other factors at play in Lampard’s sacking.
The two big signings of the previous summer, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, were struggling while there had been fall-outs with big characters such as Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso.
A year later, Chelsea seem to be stuck in a familiar pattern. This time, Romelu Lukaku is the big-money signing who cannot seem to show his best form and it is the Belgian with whom the latest head coach does not appear to see eye-to-eye.
Lukaku was dropped for his controversial Sky Italia interview and then reinstated by Tuchel, who had insisted that the situation had been dealt with calmly, despite sources claiming there had been at least one heated conversation between the pair. Having watched Lukaku miss one good chance and pass instead of shoot against City, Tuchel risked upsetting Chelsea’s club record signing once again.
“He had many ball losses without pressure and in very promising circumstances,” said Tuchel. “Of course, we want to serve him but he is part of the team and sometimes he needs to do service as well. He had a huge chance so he’s included in this.
“He is part of the team and the performances up front, especially in the first half, we can do much better and we need to do better.”
The best way to serve Lukaku might have been to have Chelsea’s most creative asset playing alongside him against City and yet Mason Mount, who Tuchel berated during the Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg success over Tottenham Hotspur, was benched.
His critics will tell you Mount has not been as consistently good this season and yet he ranks joint first in assists with Reece James, who is injured, and is the club’s third top-scorer. Mount has often been asked to play out of his most natural position, which is off the left, and has so far suffered from the injury of Ben Chilwell more than any other player as the pair had struck up a superb understanding for club and country.
With their top-four status currently not in danger, as it was this time last year, Chelsea will not be worrying too much yet and, as we saw in Tuchel’s first year, the campaign could still end on a huge high.
Equally, if the familiar cycle takes hold, he could face a stormy start to his second year in the hot seat.
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