Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Premier League Season in Review: Chelsea

Manager Thomas Tuchel took over a ninth place Chelsea in late January and proceeded to deliver a top four finish and the club’s second Champions League trophy. The change in fortune was stark and dramatic as Tuchel became the first Chelsea manager to go undefeated in his first fourteen matches across all competitions. Major off season transfer outlays by Chelsea on attacking talent such as Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech had not paid off for dismissed manager Frank Lampard and Chelsea’s trajectory changed when Tuchel implemented a greater emphasis on defense. Employing a three-man back line and ruthlessly pressing opponents, Chelsea would go on to finish the league season with more clean sheets and fewer goals conceded than any team but Manchester City.
Fittingly, it was Manchester City, the only team to accumulate more league points than Chelsea after Tuchel’s arrival in London, that was smothered by Chelsea in the 1-0 Champions League final.
Antonio Rudiger emerged from Frank Lampard’s doghouse to join captain Cesar Azpilicueta and 34-year-old Thiago Silva to form Tuchel’s first choice back three in front of outstanding keeper Edouard Mendy. Rising young center back Andreas Christensen, who starred for Denmark in the recently completed Euros, also saw time for Chelsea at center back and ably stepped in when Silva became injured early in the Champions League final. Chelsea’s dominant defense, which also relied on the efforts of French international and two-time Premier League winning midfielder N’Golo Kante, helped compensate for a frustrating lack of production by its attacking players. Chelsea scored fewer goals than any team in the top seven places in the league as midfielder Jorginho led Chelsea with seven Premier League goals, all on penalty kicks. Striker Tammy Abraham, who had led the team with 15 goals the prior season, was unable to impress Tuchel and played little after the new manager’s arrival, not even being named to the squad in critical late season games. Former Bundesliga stars Timo Werner and Kai Havertz managed just 10 goals between them in their first Premier League season. Christian Pulisic, in yet another injury damaged season, contributed only four goals in league play, one less than defender Kurt Zouma. Former Ajax star Ziyech had but two Premier League goals in his first season with the Blues.
Other negatives in an otherwise successful run under Tuchel included an FA Cup final loss to Leicester and a rocky league run in, with two losses in their final four matches almost costing Chelsea a top four berth. The Champions League victory, however, will be the enduring memory for a 2020/21 Chelsea team which will hope to contend for Premier League honors next season.
The team has a good mixture of experience and youth with five of eleven starters in the Champions League final being age 25 or under. This past season saw the blossoming of Mason Mount into Chelsea’s most consistent player as the academy product led the squad in appearances and minutes played across all competitions. The 22-year-old was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year by fans after finishing joint second in both league goals and assists for the club and feeding Kai Havertz for the winning goal in the Champions League final.

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