Thomas Tuchel’s £34m Diego Costa reminder fires Chelsea warning to avoid Cristiano Ronaldo trap


Even if I always love to reference Diego Costa, overall, those at Chelsea must wince anytime his goalscoring numbers are put up against the current cast of attacking players. Costa remains the recent measuring stick to judge efficient forwards at Stamford Bridge. His 40 goals across the 2014/15 and 2016/17 campaigns led to two Premier League titles. His ruthless edge was the perfect antidote to the brief post-Didier Drogba malaise.

There was hope the return of Romelu Lukaku would finally prove to be the perfect successor to emulate what Costa once produced. His injury issues and struggles to adapt to Thomas Tuchel's system have only produced more questions. Chelsea have only won three of their last 11 Premier League games. Tuchel's attack is not producing enough to curb that drop-off and promotes a wider discussion on the club's transfer policy next summer.

To further highlight the lack of productivity since Costa's departure, only one Chelsea player has scored 15 non-penalty Premier League goals in a season, as Expected Chelsea pointed out. This player was also one of two players to score 20 non-pen Premier League goals in total and had Chelsea's highest xG per 90. This was player was Tammy Abraham , who was sold to Roma for £34m last summer.

In his two seasons in Chelsea's senior squad after breaking through under Frank Lampard, Abraham scored 30 goals in 79 appearances in all competitions. Tuchel quickly determined Abraham to not be suitable, only playing 17 minutes of Premier League action after February, which made his future untenable at Stamford Bridge. Abraham's numbers do make interesting reading in the context of the current issues Tuchel is facing. But it simultaneously also brings into harsh light the reality of Abraham flourishing in his first season with Roma.

The 24-year-old has scored 15 goals in 29 appearances which is more than any Chelsea player this term. This should sharpen minds heading into the summer transfer window, where the club will likely be linked to several attacking players across the world. But the first port of call should be fully assessing the options Chelsea actually has. After spending over £300m on attacking additions since January 2019, including Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Romelu Lukaku, few could conclude that Chelsea's attack has been overwhelmingly improved.

Expected Chelsea again points out this in stark fashion, looking at our non-penalty xG per 90 over the past three seasons that ranks Frank Lampard's first season 2019/20 (1.87) over last season (1.61) and this term (1.61). Lampard's first season also followed a summer transfer ban imposed by FIFA and a year where Chelsea were not widely expected to achieve much under the club legend.

The lure to sign more attackers to resolve Tuchel's issues feels attractive, though it could lead the club down a path Manchester United have fallen into of spending more and more without a coherent plan. Cristiano Ronaldo was an impulse buy from Man United when the opportunity arose but was not a part of their original plan heading into last summer.

His arrival, although bringing goals, has limited the game time of developing attackers like Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, who were growing in influence the previous year. Ronaldo's lack of pressing also altered what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could do, given he was always going to start the footballing icon for most games, an issue Ralf Rangnick is also now facing.

In this upcoming window, Chelsea need to rethink their previous strategy, so this loop of questions do not continue into 2023 and beyond.

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