As Thomas Tuchel prepared for his second UEFA Champions League final is as many seasons, he may well have been having flashbacks to last year’s defeat against Bayern Munich – also in Portugal.
Tuchel, 47, was well aware that PSG’s ambitions were European success having already dominated the domestic scene in France. However, defeat in Lisbon put increased strain on the German’s relationship with the PSG board and, despite having the best win percentage in Ligue 1 history, Tuchel met his demise on Christmas Eve 2020.
At a similar time, Frank Lampard – a Chelsea hero during his playing career – was under increasing pressure. For all the plaudits he received in the 2019-20 season, including dealing with a transfer ban and getting the club’s young players to seamlessly fit into the first team set up, his second season saw the club slip down the table. Perhaps having overspent, or been overambitious in the transfer window, Chelsea’s new-look squad was too dense in the attacking third. Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner were going to join Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Olivier Giroud in competing for, at most, five places in the starting eleven. It seemed as if, in all of this spending, Chelsea missed the chance to supplement the team which did so well in the season before.
Faith in the youth team, though, was – and seems to have remained – at the core of what Chelsea are doing. It didn’t matter how much was spent in the transfer window – there was no need for a new right back, with Reece James comfortably fitting in as first choice. Thiago Silva may have been brought in to support the back line but at 35 he was never going to start week in, week out – but it didn’t matter, as Andreas Christensen has proven to be solid in that position, whilst some fans would argue Fikayo Tomori should have been given more of a chance under Lampard. Mason Mount has become a mainstay in the first team.
No one – not even Frank Lampard – could have predicted that this was Chelsea’s season in the Champions League. When Tuchel took over, Chelsea were in freefall: 9th in the league, scraping past Luton in the FA Cup, and no communication between any party. His tactical nuance meant that Chelsea managed to turn their season around. Defensively, the club are much more solid than they ever have been; they lost three of their 19 league games under Tuchel, and their only other defeat under the former Dortmund manager’s leadership came in the FA Cup final.
Chelsea’s route to the final was not exactly easy. Whilst they got out of their group unscathed, tough fixtures – including against La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and Zizou’s Real – made Thomas Tuchel’s task that little bit harder.
So to see them lifting the trophy is made all the more impressive given that the club have had their troubles this season. But where do they go from here? Tuchel said ‘I don’t want to rest. I want the next one. I want the next success and I want the next title and I want the next process on the same level of quality of consistency. I want to be a part of it and this is what comes next. Make no mistake about it.’
The fear, though, is that history repeats itself for the Blues. Many had suggested history would repeat itself this season. In 2012, André Villas-Boas was sacked with the club in poor form. A new manager was brought in (though he was already in the set-up) in the form of former MK Dons and West Brom boss Roberto Di Matteo, who led them to Champions League success. In came the Hazard brothers, the Musonda brothers, Andreas Christensen, Marko Marin, Oscar, Victor Moses and eventual captain Cesar Azpilicueta – big signings across the park – but Di Matteo’s sacking came just three months into the season.
Do Chelsea really need to strengthen? Probably. But overspending and clogging the midfield is a dangerous game. Tammy Abraham and Oli Giroud have essentially been frozen out at Stamford Bridge, so a new, confident number 9 is required to take them to the next level, with Timo Werner better deployed on the wing if at all. The Blues were linked with Sergio Aguero before his move to Barcelona, and have been linked with some of the biggest strikers in world football – Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku. Would Kane betray his Tottenham allegiance by moving across the capital in search of trophies? I can’t imagine he would want to get on the wrong side of Spurs fans with any move away. Erling Haaland may well be attracted by the Champions League win – let’s not forget that Eden Hazard was a top talent at the time of the Champions League final in 2012 before joining the Blues. Romelu Lukaku may well be a bigger player than he was when he was last in SW6, but do you go back to somewhere where you were not treated well?
He may look to the back of his team too, but I can’t see where it needs huge progress. Fikayo Tomori has had an impressive season and whilst he may well be sold, Chelsea are losing a ready made centre-back as a long-term replacement to the short-term solution that is Thiago Silva.
Overcompensating in midfield – something Chelsea always seem to do – could be detrimental in the long-term. Would Declan Rice be a good signing? Probably, but does he play ahead of N’Golo Kante? No chance.
Chelsea fans will be hoping that there is not a repeat of the 2012-13 season where they followed up a Champions League win with a third place finish in their Champions League group.