There is still plenty to do and lots to be achieved for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea. He will have ambitions to win another Champions League, eradicate cup final losses from memory and perhaps most importantly, push the club back to domestic heights that they haven’t been to in seven years.
It says a lot for the make-up and organisation of the club in good ways and bad ways that since 2012 there have been as many Champions League wins as there have been Premier League ones. The quality that Chelsea have purchased has often not made them good enough to sustain a serious title charge but has come good to push them in European competitions, though even that seriously lacked from 2014.
This is the scope of what Tuchel has dealt with and so far overcome in his 18 months in charge. Not only demonstrating the ability to create match-winning teams but also to steady the ship, to some extent, even as it sails through unchartered territory. For example, he is now bidding to win the first top-flight title outside of Roman Abramovich’s era since 1955.
Backed by Todd Boehly for the short and long- term journey they are about to depart on, Tuchel has been able to mould the club somewhat to the extent that not even Jose Mourinho was able to do. It’s meant that so far he can now tick off one of the outstanding tasks on his list.
Just before Frank Lampard was sacked, in his final league interview, the Blues’ legend summed up a sorry state of affairs that had seen Chelsea sink to ninth in the table. He said,
“I took this job knowing there would be difficult times as it’s not a club ready to compete. “We had a transfer ban, we had young players, we had new players. I understand the expectations of this club, whether I think it’s right or wrong. We are not in the same position Chelsea were in when we were winning titles. The consistency, the robustness, the level of experience of winning Premier Leagues is not the same.”
It was a statement that both drew plaudits and doubters. Whereas Lampard was said to be calling the club out for long-term failure he was also criticised for making excuses. Less than two years later and he was proved right, and wrong. Chelsea were able to compete, going on to be crowned European champions, but they also continued to fall short in the league. Tuchel found this out later himself, somewhat stumbling to the finishing line in his first season and having a mid- season drop-off curtail his title aspirations last term.
Things looked like they would follow a similar path this season after a dogged pre-season saw the German say that his side were underprepared and not ready, another season of top four competition looked set but now, with more new signings in, a somewhat aligned short and long- term transfer strategy in place and a decent start to the season Tuchel has delivered on a promise and completed Lampard’s initial mission. Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s third league game of the season, Tuchel said,
“I believe we can compete with this group. To be very honest it is one thing to compete once a week and another 60 times a year and three times a week. For this, you need a strong group. It’s simply like this. You need players who challenge for their place and their minutes and push each other to their highest level. “It does not come down to only tactics, team spirit but also the challenge and quality of players within the team and depth within the squad. That has not changed. We are very happy about the performance still but we are still active in the market and know what can be possible.”
Although his statements are somewhat contrasted, expectations must be grounded for Chelsea. They have had a lot of upheaval with the ownership movements and player departures making them an unknown quantity, the feeling could be yet again that Chelsea are a side ready to compete, but to which level that is is still not certain. A top-four push, Champions League run and domestic cup challenge are all possible, but as for what Tuchel thinks of a title fight as soon as this season, he added,
“we will need a lot of players and quality players to be competitive. At the moment, as I said, we have what we have. We know what we’re looking for. From there we go and only from there we can think about letting players go.”
This sits along with his pre-season message where he admitted,
“If you look at the transfer period of Tottenham with Antonio Conte, it’s maybe the strongest team they ever built. Manchester United will not give in, Arsenal will not give in, they’ve made two big signings already, so we are aware of the situation and try to do our best to be competitive. “The team will be strong. Even though it is maybe true that we are in transition I am not ready to use it as an excuse.”
For now, Chelsea have achieved a small target and proved Lampard once again right to an extent but also wrong enough to seriously push on.