It was the most magical of all runs for Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel from mid-season chaos to paradise in Porto.
As the renewed European champions, the Blues discarded Frank Lampard, one of their most popular sons, in January of last year, before the German quickly revitalized a talented squad into one of the most resilient and tactically intelligent teams in Europe.
Tuchel temporarily ditched his offensive idealism and pitched the Blues in a battle-hardened 3-4-3 to inspire that unlikely march in Europe, an FA Cup final and a leap from ninth to fourth in the Premier League.
Notable are three victories against champions Manchester City within six weeks, including the 1-0 victory in the Champions League final, which add extra spice to the title race this season.
There was, of course, a fleeting heartache from the thunderbolt of Leicester and Youri Tielemans at Wembley. But that bitter taste only drove the group to strike back against the Foxes in the league three days later, which ultimately proved crucial in the race for a top 4 finish.
Previous transfer window
Romelu Lukaku, at roughly £ 95million, is clearly becoming the breakthrough signing Thomas Tuchel longs for the most. The 28-year-old could well change that side by adding a razor blade to the hardened shell of the blues.
Aside from the Belgians, the Blues mostly topped up their transfer kitty this summer with a string of controversial sales. But despite fan disappointment with the academy’s departure, Chelsea have made nearly £ 60million by moving Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud to AC Milan, Marc Guehi to Crystal Palace, Victor Moses to Spartak Moscow and Valentino Livramento to Southampton. Willy Caballero has also gone on a free transfer, while Marcus Bettinelli was appointed third choice goalkeeper after his contract with Fulham expired.
There have also been notable loan departures: Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmour joined Norwich, dynamic Conor Gallagher promoted to the Premier League with Crystal Palace and Albanian striker Armando Broja temporarily moved to Livramento in St Mary’s.
Further reinforcements could come in the form of Seville’s Jules Kounde while another midfielder could be the final piece of the puzzle adding depth behind N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea reacts during the friendly against Tottenham
Thomas Tuchel is still indulging in his dream run to Porto after he was hastily dismissed by PSG before Christmas and crowned the Blues two-time Champions League winners. His ability to smother the opponent with the shape of the blues and persistent work on the ball was a miracle given the short time.
It cemented the German’s status as one of Europe’s elite coaches and built on his previous work at Borussia Dortmund, where he developed complicated attack patterns over a long period of time. Now the 47-year-old has a chance to prove his skills with full preparation and optimistic team clearance to face Manchester City with Liverpool and Manchester United. Timo Werner’s frustrating finish could soon be forgotten in light of Lukaku’s arrival. The attacking pair’s movement from both sides towards the box, along with Mason Mount and Kai Havertz’s extraordinary promise in the hole behind, should provide the ingredients for an exciting attack boost.
N’Golo Kante. Edge already showed no signs of fatigue or a hangover at Euro 2020 and was sharp in the preseason and controlled the midfield against the Spurs. He will ultimately hold the Chelsea midfield together and penetrate the opponent with his crisp passing game and appetite to burst into space. Yes, Lukaku can push Chelsea to the edge of a title if everything clicks in the final third, but without an edge, Chelsea will struggle to hit the ceiling given their vulnerability in the Frenchman’s absence.
Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante in action against Tottenham
What would success be?
Tuchel’s tactical instinct for protecting Chelsea immediately kept the Blues swimming while others finished in the top four despite a fearful final last season. But the 19-point deficit on champions Manchester City just has to be clear, despite the team’s potency in cup competitions, to call this season a success. Spending £ 222million last summer (with Havertz destined to take a plunge) coupled with the arrival of an elite striker simply requires at least a top-3 finish and title that is within a couple of wins lies. A close miss in the league with one more cutlery or a deep run in the Champions League as defending champions should be enough to bolster Tuchel’s stocks in his quest for that elusive longevity at Stamford Bridge.
14 .: Crystal Palace (h) – 15:00
22 .: Arsenal (a) – 16:30
28: Liverpool (a) – 5:30 p.m.
Ranking of bookmakers
Joint runner-up (with Liverpool): 5/1 for the title