Dubai: They are fourth in the league and have a rejuvenated spirit after the sacking of Frank Lampard, but Chelsea — once the kings of English and European football — have a long way to go if they are to consider themselves worthy of a spot at the top table in football.
Not too long ago, the Londoners were smashing in goals and smashing all opponents on their way to dominance in the Premier League and the Champions League, but times have changed and new challengers in Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester have pushed them down the pecking order — thanks in no small part to owner Roman Abramovich’s ruthless wielding of the axe and chopping his managers at will.
However, the — some would say harsh — dismissal of one-time hero Frank Lampard has seen an upturn in fortunes, as new boss Thomas Tuchel has hauled the Blues back up to fourth in the table and above defending champions Liverpool — if that is actually commendable this season as the Reds have put in an insipid defence of their title.
Tuchel’s strong start in London has drawn comparisons with some of Stamford Bridge’s most successful managers but — as I said — the Blues still have a massive Stamford gap to bridge if they are to make this season a success.
Granted, since Tuchel replaced Lampard last month, Chelsea have racked up 13 points from five Premier League games, the same as in Jose Mourinho’s first five matches in charge before he made the Londoners champions of England three times over two spells. However, City are marching towards the title once again, Manchester United have rediscovered their mojo and Leicester look even better than they did in 2015-16 when they won the title. Even West Ham United under David Moyes are contenders for a Champions League spot.
But back to the Blues ... Tuchel’s start has only been bettered by Carlo Ancelotti, who led Chelsea to a league and FA Cup double, and Maurizio Sarri under whom the Blues won the Europa League in 2019.
The former Paris St-Germain coach said finishing in the top four — where Chelsea sit after their 2-0 win over Newcastle United on Monday — to qualify for next season’s Champions League remained the target.
“There are many teams behind us, chasing us but, yes, we had many points to recover when we started and it stays a big challenge because it’s many, many, many games coming,” Tuchel said. “Every game is a difficult game and we will keep on fighting. It was a good run so far but we will have a long way to go.”
Chelsea were languishing in mid-table when Tuchel replaced Lampard less than a month ago. Since then, he has helped striker Timo Werner recover his confidence — the German scored his first league goal in more than four months on Monday — and brought in players who had been sidelined and are now fighting for their place in the team.
Left back Marcos Alonso, who reportedly fell out with Lampard early in the season, has brought his attacking threat back and even out-of-form goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga returned for the game against Newcastle. However, Tuchel said Edouard Mendy remained his first choice keeper.
The German also believed Chelsea have room for improvement, especially in attack. “We lacked decision-making in the box, we can be ... more deadly,” he said.
Looking at the dominance of City, who are 11 points ahead of the Blues — even United in second are four clear — there is room for improvement all round, especially when an injury-stricken City get back to full force.