Thomas Tuchel's next target is the Premier League title: Here's how he can do it with Chelsea
A top striker in Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Declan Rice would help mount narrow the 19-point gap on Manchester City
“I am not interested in being the best team in the world,” said a German manager who made his name at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund.
“I am interested in being the coach who can beat the best team in the world.” It was not actually Thomas Tuchel speaking but Jurgen Klopp, a man whose CV features the same clubs and, now, the same distinction: Champions League winner.
Tuchel had branded Manchester City the world’s best before the Champions League final. “They are the benchmark but you can close the gap,” he said.
Chelsea did it three times: in the FA Cup, the Premier League and then in Europe. They have repeatedly proved they can overcome City over 90 minutes. The next challenge is to do so over 3,420 – a full Premier League season.
Chelsea finished 19 points behind City, the biggest deficit between any European champions and the winners of their domestic league since Chelsea themselves were 25 points adrift of City in 2011-12.
A mid-season managerial appointment should not shoulder all the blame for the gulf: Chelsea finished second in the ‘Tuchel table,’ for most points in the German’s reign, even if it was 10 fewer than Pep Guardiola collected in the same time.
Tuchel has given Chelsea a formula for beating the best: not merely City but Atletico Madrid (twice), Real Madrid, Porto, Liverpool, Leicester, Tottenham and West Ham. Winning the league, however, also entails beating the rest.
One of the most glaring statistics of Tuchel’s time is that City scored 52 league goals and Chelsea 25, the 10th most and fewer than Newcastle. They made a little go a long way but four 0-0 draws were an indication that defensive excellence alone is not enough; recent champions have all but eliminated the draw. Infamously, Jorginho was Chelsea’s top Premier League scorer with seven, all penalties.
It all shows where there is most scope for improvement. It is the question if it is organic or imported, if Tuchel, whose contract is being extended, conjures more from his current players, buys or both.
Logically, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner should be far more potent in their second seasons; the latter was outscored only by Robert Lewandowski in the 2019-20 Bundesliga but now has two goals in his last 27 Premier League games.
Each looks pivotal but the search for someone more clinical can be aided by Roman Abramovich’s chequebook. The prime target is likely to be a finisher.
Nine years ago, Chelsea’s status as new Champions League winners persuaded Eden Hazard to join and, while there are suggestions he will stay at Borussia Dortmund, it will be intriguing if Erling Braut Haaland suddenly deems Stamford Bridge more attractive.
It is hard to imagine Tottenham selling Harry Kane to London rivals. That may leave Romelu Lukaku, who has averaged 25 goals a season in the last seven campaigns, as the most attainable striker, especially given Inter Milan’s need to cut costs.
It poses a question of how and where Tuchel accommodates everyone. It has been difficult getting five – Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Havertz and Werner – into three forward positions, even without a specialist scorer.
There is also the issue if Tuchel’s impenetrable defensive structure leaves them with too few attackers and if Mount can adapt to be one of his “double six” of defensive midfielders, or if he can change shape against lesser opponents to incorporate extra firepower.
Perhaps, instead, the added incision could come from wing-back, which may explain a reported interest in Adama Traore to challenge Reece James, though the Wolves maverick can be both unstoppable and unproductive.
There is scope for other expensive upgrades. It will be instructive if Tuchel, like Frank Lampard before him, deems Declan Rice a dream arrival in midfield. In defence, Thiago Silva is 36 and the revitalised Antonio Rudiger’s contract is up in 2022, with no extension agreed.
Marc Guehi has showed huge promise while on loan at Swansea but if Chelsea’s sights are set on the title, perhaps the era of the rookies is over.
Abramovich took advantage of others’ inability to spend last summer and reaped a reward when Havertz got the goal that won the Champions League. A second summer of spending has the potential to make them champions of England as well.
Published: May 31, 2021 02:24 PM