It was clear the adrenaline hadn’t entirely left Thomas Tuchel’s body as he conducted his post- match media interviews following Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur – and his somewhat pantomime spat with Antonio Conte after the final whistle. The German coach shifted from foot to foot, unable to completely stand still in front of the cameras. Yet his analysis was clear, concise, and perhaps most importantly of all, emphatically positive.
“I loved how we played today,” the Chelsea head coach told the club’s in-house media. “The intensity, the structure, the discipline the commitment and then the fighting spirit and attitude in every single challenge. This was pure hunger and quality. It was so, so nice to be on the sideline.”
Prior to the game, the first at Stamford Bridge this season, many supporters were concerned. Chelsea were sluggish throughout their pre-season fixtures and in their Premier League opener against Everton. In contrast, Tottenham seemed fit, sharp and fully attuned to the demands of Conte. Yet across 90 minutes in stifling hot west London, Chelsea’s players silenced their doubters.
The only frustration was their failure to come away with a victory, something largely down to poor officiating but also due to slack marking in the dying moments from a Tottenham corner. It is unfair to be too harsh, however. The performance was the Blues’ best since their ultimately fruitless efforts in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in the Champions League in August.
The energy invested was huge both in and out of possession and the front three of Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount caused Tottenham constant problems. Rotation between the trio was constant. When Sterling dropped deep or wide – something he did often, as the touch map below highlights – Havertz moved centrally. If Mount felt confident shifting across the pitch to receive the ball, one of his fellow attackers would shift into the space vacated by the academy graduate.
It meant gaps continuously appeared despite Tottenham playing a back three and allowed Jorginho, in particular, to feed the ball into dangerous areas on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area. It’s little wonder that Tuchel was delighted with what he saw. All that was missing was the finishing touch. That is not a new problem for Chelsea; it’s one that can be traced back to the infamous text message Conte sent to Diego Costa after his first season at the helm of Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have never truly replaced the striker. They have tried, many times in fact. Tuchel’s had his go too. The German approved the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan for a club-record £97.5million last summer and then quickly realised the Belgian’s inclusion resulted in Chelsea becoming far more predictable in attack. Lukaku has since returned to Inter on loan.
Timo Werner has also departed this summer, rejoining RB Leipzig in a deal worth £25million. And despite the incorporation of Armando Broja into the first-team squad, Chelsea are still interested in bringing another forward to Stamford Bridge. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is Tuchel’s pick; no surprise given the two developed a close relationship at Borussia Dortmund.
Yet certain pundits have suggested Chelsea go after a more illustrious name – and they are far from alone in this wish if social media is a barometer to judge. “I cannot believe they didn’t or haven’t gone in for Cristiano Ronaldo . He just ticks all of the boxes Chelsea are lacking,” says Sky Sports’ Paul Merson.
“Playing for Chelsea is not like playing for Manchester United, who are working from the halfway line. Chelsea are on the edge of the box, dominating games. “Chelsea have unbelievable wing-backs, they dominate football matches, if they were putting the ball into the box for Ronaldo I would dread to think how many goals he could score.”
That last point is one many also made when Lukaku arrived. He was viewed as a goalscoring guarantee, the clinical edge Chelsea lacked. Yet his struggles showcase that simply dropping a goalscorer into Tuchel’s team does not solve every problem. If anything, it creates others. At 37 years old, Ronaldo can’t do the pressing Tuchel craves from his forwards. Nor would the rotation of attackers displayed against Tottenham be as effective.
And that’s before any off-pitch considerations, such as the Portuguese superstar’s salary, his stature, and his own ego, something which has created a problem for new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag this summer. Ronaldo is one of – if not the – best to have played the game. There is no doubt of that. But the fact a host of clubs aren’t queuing to sign him from Manchester United this summer speaks volumes and highlights that many a coach value the quantitative quality of a team over the undoubted brilliance of an individual.
It’s understood that Tuchel ended Chelsea’s interest in Ronaldo earlier this summer – and Chelsea’s performance against Tottenham highlighted why. Yes, greater ruthlessness is needed in the final third but certainly not at the cost of Tuchel’s tactical approach. That must always be the very first box ticked.