Thomas Tuchel unable to enjoy £300m Chelsea gift as Frank Lampard achievement remains unrivalled


It was Hakim Ziyech who came first; his £33.3million signing from Ajax confirmed all the way back in February 2020. Yet that was just the start of Chelsea's recruitment drive under Frank Lampard. Timo Werner was brought in next. The German forward had plundered goal after goal in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig and had attracted interest from Liverpool, but Chelsea managed to convince him to switch to Stamford Bridge in a deal worth £47.5million.

Then came Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen for £71million - one of the most sought-after young players in European football. His signing was somewhat down to opportunity – Real Madrid and Barcelona's finances were impacted by the Covid pandemic and Bayern Munich focused on their energy on bringing in Leroy Sane from Manchester City. That trio were added to an attack that already included academy graduates Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham.

Christian Pulisic, recruited from Borussia Dortmund in January 2019 for £57.6million was also in situ. Veterans Willian and Pedro moved on that summer for Arsenal and Roma respectively. It was viewed as a changing of the guard at Stamford Bridge, a conscious decision to move from old to young.

Things started well only for Chelsea to crumble in December. Lampard was sacked the following month and in came Thomas Tuchel, who rather spectacularly guided the Blues to a Champions League triumph. Still, something was missing in the penalty box; a lack of ruthlessness, no killer instinct. So Chelsea went and paid £97.5million to re-sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan. The signing was viewed as a statement of intent from the Blues.

For those keeping track, Chelsea have spent more than £300million on attacking players over the past two years. And all it has got them is diminishing returns. During the 2019/20 campaign – Lampard's first at the helm and one that included a transfer ban – Chelsea's non-penalty expected goals per 90 in the Premier League was 1.59, per Wyscout.

The attack that year predominantly included three of Mount, Willian, Pulisic and Abraham, although Olivier Giroud did enjoy a late-season renaissance. That familiarity proved important with players able to establish understandings in the final third. Chelsea did need to upgrade, though. It's why the board gifted Lampard with three top-tier attacking players that would, in theory, take the Blues to the next level.

However, what happened was Lampard's tactical plan became muddled. He tried to crowbar his new signings into the side, attempted to keep everyone happy. There were growing pains, though.

"With Timo and Kai coming into the Premier League...some of the greatest Premier League players have needed time to settle to the league," Lampard a little over a year ago. "What we have at the club, particularly in forward areas apart from Oli for obvious reasons, is a lot of young players who have a lot of potential or are new to the league."

Lampard was sacked less than a month later and replaced by Tuchel. The 3-4-2-1 implemented by the 48-year-old ensured instant improvement and defensive stability, but there was one fewer attacking role to be claimed. Everyone was given a go before the German settled on a first-choice trio of Mount, Havertz and Werner, who started the Champions League final.

In the top flight, though, Chelsea's performances were solid but rather uninspiring and the Blues stumbled into the top four partly because Leicester failed to defeat Tottenham on the final day. Come the end of the campaign, Tuchel's side had averaged a non-penalty expected goals per 90 of 1.44. That figure was lower than the season prior, perhaps no surprise given Chelsea's shots per 90 had fallen from 15.3 to 13.7.

Tuchel felt his side lacked a reliable goalscorer. In came Lukaku as a result. Unfortunately, the Belgian has only seemingly complicated things further. Lukaku is stylistically hugely different from Havertz, who in turn is nothing like Werner. In the same vein, Mount offers very different qualities than Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech. So when Tuchel needs or opts to rotate, he is not only changing personnel but also the attacking profile of his side.

This term, the Chelsea head coach has used 12 different attacking combinations; the latest coming against Brighton with the Blues set up in a 4-2-2-2 with Hudson-Odoi and Lukaku in the front line. It didn't work but rarely has what's come before. It's why Chelsea's non-penalty expected goals per 90 in the Premier League this season is an underwhelming 1.43, a figure lower than in the past two campaigns.

Long-term suffered by Ben Chilwell and Reece James have played their part in the Blues' reduced threat yet the simple fact is Tuchel's attack – constructed at a cost of £300million remember – is not functioning and hasn't been for some time. The Chelsea head coach will not tailor his approach to the benefit of one attacker, though. He has already stated that in response to questioned about how to unlock Lukaku.

“No, we do everything to help him but it is absolutely the wrong question because it is focusing on one player," he said earlier this week. "He is a key player and we want him to be a key player but this is for me the wrong approach. This is what we do by the way constantly, for any player. It’s a team sport, not about ten players serving one player. This is not Chelsea or football. Every player serves one team, this will never change. ”

Given the success Tuchel has achieved at Chelsea, such a stance is understandable. However, there is a need for a change of approach if the Blues' expensively-assembled frontline is going to come good this season and beyond.

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