In the first half of last season, it looked like Chelsea were going to mount a sustained Premier League title challenge. Fresh from winning the Champions League a few months prior, the Blues came flying out of the traps and emerged as the early pacesetters.
They remained at the top of the table until the beginning of December, but a 3-2 defeat by West Ham United saw them drop to second and Thomas Tuchel’s side never really recovered. A run of just one win in seven matches over the Christmas and New Year period left the club from the capital 12 points behind Manchester City in first place despite having played a game more than Pep Guardiola’s side.
Injuries were one reason for Chelsea’s drop-off, but it is also true that they did not have the relentless consistency of City and Liverpool. That is understandable. Tuchel has been in his position for a much shorter time than either Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. Neither City nor Liverpool was anywhere near as dominant as they are today during their respective managers’ first full season at the helm.
The second half of last season was overshadowed by Roman Abramovich being forced to sell the club he had owned since 2003. A consortium led by Todd Boehly, an American billionaire, completed its long-awaited takeover of the club before the deadline imposed by the British government. The 2022/23 campaign is therefore the start of a new era for Chelsea, who will hope to continue winning silverware with the regularity they did during Abramovich’s 19-year stewardship.
Predicted XI (3-4-3)
Edouard Mendy; Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Kalidou Koulibaly; Reece James, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell; Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling.
Just like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, Tuchel is the most important figure at Chelsea. The German was handed the potentially tricky task of replacing Frank Lampard, a club legend, as the Blues boss, but he made an immediate impact by winning the Champions League within months of taking the reins.
Last season was not quite as successful, but Chelsea still won the Club World Cup, reached the final of both the FA Cup and the League Cup, and comfortably finished in the top four in the Premier League. Tuchel will now hope to take the next step with this team, especially in the league.
Known to be an intense and demanding operator, the German has fallen out with players in the past. Indeed, it was his sometime difficult personality that played a part in his departures from both Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain. Meanwhile, Tuchel has been vocal in his frustration at Chelsea’s lack of success in the transfer market this summer. A poor start to the season could see that frustration spill over, but the Chelsea fans would not swap him for anyone.
Player to watch
After seven hugely successful years at Manchester City, Raheem Sterling has joined Chelsea. His deal at the Etihad Stadium was due to expire in 2023 and a departure this summer always looked like a distinct possibility. Sterling himself had previously hinted that he fancied a spell abroad, but he will instead join his third Premier League club after Liverpool and City. The winger will hope to add to the four Premier League winners’ medals he already has in his collection.
Sterling has not been quite as consistent as he could have been in the last couple of years, but he remains a world-class footballer on his day. England’s star player at last summer’s European Championship has averaged more than 15 goals and almost seven assists per season over the last five years.
Able to play on either the left or right wing (and even through the middle if needed), his title-winning experience will be just as important to Chelsea as his tremendous ability. Sterling was the attacker Thomas Tuchel wanted most this pre-season and it looks as if the Chelsea head coach is about to get his man.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Omari Hutchinson (Arsenal)
Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid), Romelu Lukaku (Inter, loan), Andreas Christensen (Barcelona), Danny Drinkwater (Released)
Our Premier League score card
Edouard Mendy started last season with a bang, leading many to label him the preeminent goalkeeper in world football. He was unable to maintain that high level of performance throughout the campaign, though, as mistakes began to creep into the Senegalese shot-stopper’s game. But as the old saying goes: form is temporary, class is permanent. We expect Mendy to get back to his best this term.
Mendy’s huge frame and long arms allow him to pull off saves that would be beyond inferior goalkeepers. He is also athletic and agile, and is growing in confidence when it comes to dominating his penalty area. If he can cut out the errors, Mendy will be spoken of as one of the best goalkeepers around again.
The departure of Antonio Rudiger, formerly one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, is a blow. But Chelsea have done a fine job of replacing him with Kalidou Koulibaly, who has excelled at Napoli for years.
But given that Andreas Christensen has also left, Chelsea need more reinforcements at the back. The evergreen Thiago Silva, for all his enduring excellence, will not be able to feature in all 38 Premier League games as he approaches his 38th birthday. A move for Jules Kounde was hijacked by Barcelona, leaving Tuchel short of options as the campaign gets set to begin. Cesar Azpilicueta is past his best and might leave anyway, with Barcelona said to be keen. Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr are still young and not yet cut out for the task of playing at centre-half for Chelsea week in, week out.
Tuchel has favoured a 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formation during his time at Chelsea so far, which means he can only choose two central midfielders in his starting XI. Saul Niguez is back at Atletico Madrid after his loan spell and Ross Barkley continues to be linked with the exit door, so there are probably four options to fill those roles in the engine room this season. Just as he did last term, Tuchel will rotate between them.
Jorginho and N’Golo Kante could be his go-to pair for the biggest games. The Italy international is an out-and-out regista, a playmaker who sits deep and dictates the tempo of the game. But while Jorginho is not one to shirk a tackle, he is not exactly a natural ball-winner. Kante remains a master of that particular trade, and Chelsea fans will hope he can stay fit throughout 2022/23.
Mateo Kovacic will have a big role to play too. He offers more drive in possession than Jorginho and a touch more guile than Kante. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is sure to get minutes in midfield too, but Conor Gallagher will probably play further forward when he is called upon.
Romelu Lukaku was supposed to be the missing piece in the jigsaw for Chelsea last season, but his second spell at Stamford Bridge did not go to plan. With the Belgium international back at Inter, initially on loan, Kai Havertz will get the nod up front. The German is an intelligent, skilful player, but Chelsea will need him to score more goals than the eight he contributed in 29 Premier League games in 2021/22.
Havertz will be supported by Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling. The former is still somehow underrated despite another fantastic campaign last time out. Sterling, meanwhile, will bring more pace to the Chelsea attack, while his past record means he could be among the Premier League top scorers if things click for him in west London.
Tuchel will not be completely content with his bench as it stands. There are enough rotation options in the centre of the park, although the Chelsea manager might still seek to add one more midfielder to the ranks before the transfer window closes in early September. There is not enough quality cover at centre-back, however, and another attack-minded right wing-back to serve as Reece James’ understudy would not go amiss.
Chelsea have enough numbers in forward areas but Tuchel does not appear to be convinced by some of them, namely Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech. If any of those players were to depart, Chelsea would probably look to sign another forward or two alongside Raheem Sterling.
Final score: 41/50
Chelsea were not able to keep pace with Manchester City and Liverpool last season and they will struggle to do so this time around too. The Blues have work to do defensively in particular, while the lack of an out-and-out No.9 could be a hindrance. Chelsea have enough quality to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, though.