THE arrival of Todd Boehly’s consortium as the club’s new owners — and with it the promise of large investment on and off the field — have ensured Chelsea supporters entered this summer riding a wave of optimism.
Even the departure of club record signing Romelu Lukaku on loan to former side Inter Milan – a move that served as an acknowledgment by both the striker and Chelsea that the transfer was a failure – couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm.
Allowing Lukaku to return to Italy was a move that made sense and, while the arrival of Raheem Sterling hasn’t been met with universal approval from the fanbase, signing someone of his pedigree from a direct rival is a clear sign of Boehly’s ambition.
The signing of Sterling, as well as the attempted move for Leeds’ Raphinha – who is reportedly now likely to join Barcelona – also serves as a message to Chelsea’s current crop of forwards that their performances to date have not been up to scratch.
Unsurprisingly, a number of them are rumoured to be available to other clubs as part of what promises to be a busy summer in west London. Hakim Ziyech is a target for AC Milan, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic have been linked with moves away, and Armando Broja — whose status at Chelsea is uncertain after spending last season on loan at Southampton — is of interest to several Premier League sides.
The clear targeting of wingers by Thomas Tuchel in this transfer window also raises the prospect of the head coach pondering a move away from his preferred 3-4-3 formation.
But with a lack of strikers — not to mention centre-backs — how will Chelsea line up next season?
How will Sterling fit in?
And will Tuchel enter the season with Kai Havertz as his No 9, or push Boehly to make a stunning move for Cristiano Ronaldo?
Chelsea’s underperforming attack
The fact that allowing Lukaku — a £97.5m signing less than a year ago — to leave was such a simple decision demonstrates how disappointing his second spell with Chelsea proved to be.
Not only was his return of 15 goals in 44 games across all competitions underwhelming, but he disrupted the team with his unsanctioned interview with Sky in Italy in December in which he questioned Tuchel’s tactics and talked up a move back to Inter.
Lukaku’s underperformance, as well as his dissatisfaction with Tuchel’s tactics, could well be explained by his lack of compatibility with his head coach’s demands.
The German likes his team to press from the front, and Chelsea ranked in the top seven for possession wins in the attacking and middle thirds in the Premier League last season.
But Lukaku’s personal statistics show that he was either unwilling or unable to perform to that brief.
No forward recorded fewer than his 0.11 tackles per 90 minutes in the top flight last season, while he ranked 80th among 87 forwards for possession wins in the attacking third.
But it wasn’t just Lukaku who failed to meet expectations last season. Pulisic, Werner, Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi scored just 15 Premier League goals between them.
Chelsea ranked third among top-flight clubs for chances created last season, but only three sides missed more big chances than the Blues during that time.
It’s no surprise that Tuchel appears keen to revamp his strikeforce this summer.
Will wingers provide winning formula?
Usually the departure of a club’s main striker would quickly lead to the team looking to secure a direct replacement.
But reports of the Blues scouring the market for a new striker have been thin on the ground.
Chelsea have held discussions about making moves for Neymar and Ronaldo — who wants to leave Manchester United — but it’s unclear whether Tuchel wants to pursue moves for either player.
In any case, the Blues have preferred to place their focus on recruiting Sterling, all of which means they face the real possibility of entering the season with just Havertz, Werner and Broja — who has just six Premier League goals to his name — as their options at No 9.
Tuchel’s aim this summer looks to have been to use the millions provided by Boehly to improve his team’s output from the areas out wide and behind the main striker.
Sterling is the first new signing through the door under Boehly’s ownership and it’s not hard to see why he and Tuchel were so keen to sign the Manchester City and England winger.
Picking up a four-time Premier League winner from one of your direct rivals is a no-brainer, while the fee — £47.5m due to Sterling having only one year remaining on his City contract — makes the move even more attractive.
Sterling ranks in the top 10 among Premier League forwards for goals, big chances scored, completed take-ons and possession wins in the attacking third across the last two seasons.
The 27-year-old also has 23 league goals in the last two campaigns – Mason Mount was the Blues’ best performer in that time with 17.
Sterling’s 44.09 per cent shooting accuracy was also better than any Chelsea forward, as was his total of 19 big chances converted.
Sterling is also a good creator, with only Mount bettering his totals for assists, chances created and touches in the Premier League across the last two seasons among Chelsea’s forwards.
If Sterling can replicate that form at Stamford Bridge, he should prove to be a valuable addition to the Blues’ attack.
During his solitary campaign back in the Premier League, Lukaku performed worse than Sterling across a variety of key metrics.
The Belgian registered fewer goals, assists and shots than Sterling, while he also ranked below him for tackles, interceptions and possession wins.
Even if Tuchel doesn’t attempt to bring in a like-for-like replacement for Lukaku, the head coach seems to believe he can improve the output from his attack by upgrading in the wide areas.
How to answer the questions in defence and midfield?
While Chelsea are clearly prioritising strengthening in attack, it’s clear they will need to turn their attention to defence sooner rather than later.
Antonio Rudiger — a linchpin at the back since Tuchel’s arrival 18 months ago — and Andreas Christensen have both left the club on free transfers, leaving the 37-year-old Thiago Silva, plus Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr, as the only senior centre-backs at the head coach’s disposal.
Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta and fellow Spain international Marcos Alonso are also reported targets for Barcelona, meaning Chelsea are left with questions to ponder in defence.
Unsurprisingly, the Blues have begun to address those issues by moving for Man City’s Nathan Ake, who spent six years at Stamford Bridge earlier in his career, and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.
Chelsea were also keen on Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt, although he is said to favour a move to Bayern Munich.
The west Londoners also have Sevilla’s Jules Kounde – who they nearly signed in January — RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol and Paris Saint-Germain’s Presnel Kimpembe on their shortlist.
Alonso could be replaced by Emerson Palmieri, who’s returned to Chelsea after a loan spell at Lyon, but Azpilicueta’s exit would mean Tuchel and Boehly would need to recruit a new right-back.
The problems are not quite as pressing in midfield, but they could cause major headaches this time next season if they are not dealt with now.
N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are both into the final years of their contracts, meaning Chelsea face losing two key midfielders for free in a year’s time, just like they did with Rudiger and Christensen this summer.
That prospect should be unpalatable for Tuchel and Boehly, so negotiating new deals for the duo — or selling them for a fee now — should be on the agenda.
Kante’s injury record has become a concern, with the France international starting fewer than 60 per cent of Premier League matches in the last two seasons, and recruiting a new midfielder shouldn’t be out of the question for Chelsea.
They have been linked with Frenkie de Jong, whose move from Barcelona to Manchester United doesn’t appear to be moving any closer.
The targeting of wide forwards could prompt Tuchel to switch from his preferred 3-4-3 formation. Sterling’s most natural position is cutting in from the left-wing and the pursuit of Raphinha – a left-footer who likes to cut in from the right – may suggest that Tuchel is keen to line up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
Both systems would arguably suit Ziyech and Pulisic more than a 3-4-3 – provided they stay at the club – while Hudson-Odoi may also welcome the opportunity to perform as a more orthodox winger.
Werner would also be an option cutting in from the left or playing through the middle – again, assuming he’s still at the club when the window closes.
There have also been suggestions that Tuchel is considering using Sterling through the middle, perhaps in a fluid 4-4-2 formation.
While that may initially raise eyebrows, it wouldn’t be a new role for the former Liverpool man. Sterling started regularly in a front two alongside Harry Kane in a 3-5-2 during Gareth Southgate’s earlier days as England manager, while he was also occasionally tasked with performing as a false nine in Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3.
On the other hand, is it likely that Tuchel will stick firmly to a new formation?
Despite favouring a three-man defence since arriving at Chelsea, he used five different systems in the Premier League last season, while he also regularly changed the shape of his team during his time in charge of Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund. Instead, moving on Lukaku — an out-and-out No 9 — and targeting versatile wide forwards gives Tuchel added flexibility.
Continuing to play with a three-man defence will only be possible if Chelsea reinforce in that area, though.
Ake would be a sensible replacement for Rudiger on the left of the back-three, but Christensen’s exit, Azpilicueta’s potential departure and Silva’s age mean at left one other centre-back must be brought in.
Regardless of the system, Havertz will be confident of retaining his place as Tuchel’s main striker after ousting Lukaku from the starting XI.
That is unless Tuchel and Boehly decide to pursue a move for Ronaldo, who would surely command the role as Chelsea’s No 9 if he makes a surprise transfer to Manchester United’s Premier League rivals.
The Portugal international — who Erik ten Hag insisted this week is not for sale — would no doubt bring goals to Tuchel’s side, but at what cost?
Ronaldo would require a huge financial commitment and would likely disrupt Havertz’s development by taking his place in the XI.
While he fared better than Lukaku, Ronaldo’s totals for tackles, interceptions and possession wins ranked well below Havertz last season. If Tuchel wants an attack that contributes more out of possession, signing Ronaldo wouldn’t make much sense.
But whether Ronaldo features in Tuchel’s plans or not, it’s clear the head coach wants more from his attack this season in a bid to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool.
Lukaku’s exit and Sterling’s arrival gives Tuchel more flexibility and further additions could be made with more than six weeks of the transfer window still to go.
But one thing’s for sure – Chelsea’s attack will look very different when they begin their Premier League campaign at Everton on August 6, live on Sky Sports. — Skysports.