Chelsea interest in Sterling and Jesus doesn’t mean they’re settling for third place

Will Ford
Sterling Jesus Man City

The immediate reaction to a club signing cast-offs from title rivals is that said club isn’t actually a title rival. But that’s not the case when it comes to Chelsea’s interest in Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.


Chelsea fans won’t need reminding of this but for others, dazzled and perhaps blinkered by the brilliance of Manchester City and Liverpool, Thomas Tuchel’s side were pretty good at the start of last season. They led the Premier League throughout October and November before their customary Christmas collapse. We were talking about a three-way title race.

But ahead of summer rebuilds and transfer shuffles, with City and Liverpool set to have shiny, expensive strikers to bolster ridiculous rosters which already swept (nearly) all comers aside last season, we are currently preparing for life with a Premier League Big Two.

That’s tough for Chelsea supporters to take. After their Champions League win over Pep Guardiola’s side just over a year ago, two domestic cup final shootout defeats to Liverpool and giving as good as they got in the majority of their games against the runaway pair, in some ways it doesn’t feel as though they’re a million miles away.

Chelsea have been linked with a host of centre-backs to replace Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to close the gap, along with a number of forwards, including out-of-contract Ousmane Dembele and goal-contribution machine Christopher Nkunku.

But the most intriguing rumours surround Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

What’s hard to get your head around when it comes to the City pair is that a) City could be willing to sell them to Chelsea, and b) Chelsea would want to sign them given they’re deemed surplus to requirements by City. But actually, neither should come as a great surprise for the same reason – Chelsea are a long way behind the champions. Nineteen points is a big gap.

How many games did Chelsea play well in last season? Like really well, like City and Liverpool well? At home to Juventus and away to Real Madrid spring to mind. They were decent in the League Cup final. They thrashed Norwich and Southampton who put up no resistance. You wouldn’t run out of fingers to count them on.

The ‘sign of a champion is to win when you’re not playing well’ cliche assumes you do actually play well in some of the games you win; the point when games become ‘all about the three points’ doesn’t typically arrive in September.

Chelsea don’t swat teams aside like Liverpool or Manchester City. They struggle to break inferior sides down, miss lots of chances and lack anything like that crushing sense of inevitability that opposition teams, managers and fans feel as they watch Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne and the rest suffocating them.

The difference – are you ready for this insightful, off-the-wall bit of analysis? – is that Chelsea’s attack is not as good as Liverpool or City’s. I know, bear with me.

Other than Olivier Giroud, who did exactly what it said on the tin he was confined to for far too much of his Stamford Bridge stay, Chelsea haven’t signed a forward worth their weight in transfer fees since Pedro nearly seven years ago. And he only just squeaks into that category.

Diego Costa in 2014 is the last to have taken the league by storm in a way close to pretty much all of those signed by Liverpool and City since. Kai Havertz has been the best of a rotten bunch, but promising and talented though he is, we would have expected more for £72m were he playing for any side other than the one in which forwards go to curl up and die.

It’s the sort of curse-like quirk that could be cause for potential signings to swerve the club. Alvaro Morata, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku were all at the peak of their powers when they arrived at Chelsea and have been various shades of sh*t since. But then it’s still a club that guarantees silverware – you ordinarily get a medal or two while being distinctly average.

That, along with the offer of Champions League football and the wages, is why Chelsea are still among the most attractive clubs to join in world football. And why forwards are apparently willing to risk their careers going kaput via the Stamford Bridge hoodoo.

Tuchel speaks on Chelsea

And though there is a sense of unease around the idea that Chelsea would sign players City don’t want given Tuchel’s target will be to beat them to the Premier League title next season, Blues fans should not be turning their noses up at the idea of signing either Sterling or Jesus.

They may not be a success in London but players good enough to start 61 games between them for City last season are absolutely good enough for Chelsea. The Blues should be pleased such brilliant footballers with such a wealth of Premier League experience are considering them as an option.

It is a sign of where Chelsea are at, certainly where their attack is at, and is perhaps an indication of how little City consider them a threat. But it is by no means a sign that they’re settling for third place; it’s no admission of defeat. Both players have played a key part in multiple league titles for City and they can do the same for Chelsea. The fact they’ve got such a taste for it should be seen as a huge positive. Premier League unknowns like Dembele and Nkunku will always feel more exciting simply because they’re unknown. It’s nice to add to the league’s pool of talent, but Chelsea have had no recent success to suggest that excitement is anywhere near worth the risk.

Tuchel doesn’t necessarily need his attack to be as good as City or Liverpool, he just needs it to be quite a bit better than it is. And Sterling or Jesus, if they maintain their form having moved to Stamford Bridge (and admittedly the hex ensures that is a big if) would both undoubtedly improve Chelsea as an attacking force.

And how sweet would it be, after years of De Bruyne-based laughs, if a player cast aside by City led Chelsea to glory. Don’t rule it out.