Chelsea have a gem in Thomas Tuchel. Whatever current problems they’re facing, he’s a guy who can sort it out.
It took Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp time to build Manchester City and Liverpool in their own image so for Chelsea to win the Champions League and reach two domestic cup finals within Tuchel’s first 12 months is a great achievement for the manager.
None of that is meant to gloss over Chelsea’s indifferent run. Their policy of regularly changing managers and running transfers at boardroom level has worked well previously but has definitely hit a snag now.
Thomas Tuchel has seen his Chelsea team falter away in the Premier League in recent weeks
It may seem strange but I think their heavy spending has left Tuchel with too many options in attacking areas, making their strength in depth a weakness.
Instead of sticking to a tried-and-trusted front three, as Jurgen Klopp has done at Liverpool, Tuchel has regularly rotated to give all his expensive acquisitions a chance and find the best combination.
The result has been a lack of fluidity because none of them have had enough time to build up the rhythm required at a new club.
Guardiola has a similar selection policy at City but the difference is he’s picking between the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, who have been at the club long enough to understand how the team plays.
Jurgen Klopp has stuck to the same front three for the best part of the last three seasons
While Pep Guardiola has adopted a similar policy with Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez
In contrast, Chelsea have spent more than £250million in the last 18 months on Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech. Christian Pulisic only arrived the summer before.
They are all competing for three places in Tuchel’s 3-4-3 with the likes of Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
It’s too many and Tuchel is going to have to make some tough choices and even let players leave as trying to keep everyone happy isn’t an option if you want to be successful.
For me, Mount has to start because he is the most reliable and productive. You know he’s a 7/10 at worst every week whereas you don’t know what you’ll get with the others.
Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi are competing for a starting spot at Chelsea
Lukaku also has to start because he is the proven goalscorer who, given time, will convert the chances.
Nearly every successful team has that go-to marksman; from Thierry Henry at Arsenal to Liverpool’s Mo Salah in the present day.
My admiration for Tuchel has grown the longer he’s been in England.
It’s been a blow for him that pivotal wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell have both been injured at the same time.
Romelu Lukaku has so far yet to live up to the tag of Chelsea’s record signing
But Murphy believes the Belgian deserves a consistent run in the team to get back to his best
Thomas Tuchel has used 18 different front three combinations in 23 games
In their absence, more scrutiny is on the front players and they haven’t delivered.
James has five goals and six assists this season – he is as important to Chelsea as Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold are to Manchester City and Liverpool.
The figures are worrying. Werner’s only league goal of the campaign came in October.
Chesterfield are the only team Ziyech has scored against at Stamford Bridge this season. Even the normally prolific Lukaku has scored only four goals in 19 appearances.
But in their defence, players all need regular football to build cohesion and the chopping and changing, even taking into account Covid issues and injuries, has not helped.
The answer is for Tuchel to start being more consistent in selection.
I was amazed Mount wasn’t used against Manchester City last weekend. Fitness permitting, he has to start against Tottenham today.
Though I think his best position is in a midfield three, he can work in Tuchel’s formation because he is intelligent, can link up play and do the hard yards defending.
He doesn’t have to be a winger, his level of ability means he can fit into most systems.
Timo Werner, meanwhile, has scored just one Premier League goal so far this season
Hakim Ziyech has found the net only three times so far this season in 23 appearances
Lukaku has to be given a run, not put on the bench after a couple of dodgy games. I know City share the goals around but they are an exception and Guardiola has worked with his group for years.
And given the choice, even Guardiola would prefer to play with a regular scorer like Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero.
Managers are always in the firing line but Chelsea as a club have to take responsibility for their signings. Pulisic, Ziyech, Werner and Havertz were all risks, new to the Premier League.
Pulisic and Havertz were young and only Werner had a good strike rate.
Chelsea lost both their starting full-backs to injuries and are short of options on the flanks
To sign them all in the same period was perhaps unwise. Liverpool’s investment in Diogo Jota, £40m for someone who had scored regularly in the Premier League, looks inspired by comparison.
Chelsea take a long break from Premier League action after today so it’s imperative that they sign off with three points. Otherwise what looked like a title fight a few weeks ago becomes a battle to finish in the top four.
Tuchel is the right manager, I have no doubt, but he should settle on his strongest line-up and stick to it. They have drawn games they should have won in recent weeks because their front players haven’t established the right relationship.
Sort that issue out and there is no reason Chelsea can’t win another trophy or two this season.