In the week they paid over £100m for another central midfielder – as well as stealing a second player from under Liverpool’s outstretched fingertips in Romeo Lavia – Chelsea were brought crashing back down to earth by West Ham at the London Stadium.
The game showcased two sides who have had very different summers, with the Blues fielding an incredibly expensive and hastily constructed XI and the Irons boasting just one new signing in their line-up having endured a frustrating summer after receiving their Declan Rice windfall.
James Ward-Prowse’s home debut saw him grab two assists but it is hard to say his new side truly deserved their victory, with David Moyes saying as much in his post-match press conference.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were impressive for large parts of the game, particularly in the first half prior to goalscorer Carney Chukwuemeka’s withdrawal with injury. His replacement Mykhailo Mudryk had another afternoon to forget.
Chelsea’s weakness in that first half was their final ball and finishing, exemplified by Enzo Fernandez’s penalty miss, which would have flipped the game on its head and likely seen a different winner.
No doubt a very good player and someone with a good previous penalty record, it was still strange to see the Argentinian step up ahead of Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling having not scored for the club since his £108m move in January.
Jackson has looked impressive so far, with his electric pace and excellent dribbling skills making him a constant threat against both Liverpool and West Ham. But he has done a lot of his work outside of the box and down the channels, when he really needs to be the one on the receiving end of the balls he provides.
While he was prolific at times for Manchester City, Sterling has never been an instinctive finisher; he had the best service in the world at City but absolutely will not get that luxury at Chelsea.
Armando Broja is close to recovering from an ACL injury but is raw and unproven, while another new signing Christopher Nkunku, scorer of 58 goals in his last two seasons at Leipzig, is also in the treatment room. He also isn’t strictly a number nine.
Romelu Lukaku? Write that one off as a bad debt even if he currently doesn’t have a way out of Stamford Bridge.
It begs the question of how Todd Boehly and his team have spent over £950m, signed 24 players and broke the British transfer record twice in just a year of ownership but still do not have a top-class centre-forward.
It’s not like they were free-scoring in his first chaotic season in charge. Their goals tally of 38 was half that of the previous season, and their lowest since 1923/24. Nobody hit double figures, with the now-departed Kai Havertz their ‘top scorer’ with a paltry seven strikes.
Of course, there were more goals in previous years with Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard regularly picking up the baton and leading Chelsea from deeper positions, and working in conjunction with a link man, but it does continue a trend at the club of non-scoring strikers.
The last two seasons of the Roman Abramovich era also saw midfielders as top scorers in the league, Mason Mount with 11 in 2021/22 and Jorginho with seven the season before, all of which came from the penalty spot. He would have been handy on Sunday.
Tammy Abraham’s sole season as the club’s main man up top saw him hit 15 league goals but he was soon discarded when Havertz, Timo Werner and co made the switch to west London.
Both Havertz and Werner now belong in the Chelsea hall of shame alongside Lukaku, Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuain, Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato, Andriy Shevchenko and Mateja Kezman.
They are all strikers who were prolific elsewhere (perhaps excluding Morata) but who failed to bring their scoring boots to Chelsea and were never of the requisite standard to carry them to a league title.
In fact, only two strikers have led the line for Chelsea in their five successful Premier League-winning campaigns: Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. They are also the only strikers to score 20 league goals for Chelsea in the last 20 seasons, though Frank Lampard did hit that mark in the 2009/10 season.
Drogba even acted as a back-up for Costa in the 2014/15 season, in which Jose Mourinho claimed his third title in his second spell at the club. Curiously, neither man ever wore the number 9 shirt for Chelsea, with Abraham’s 2019/20 and Hernan Crespo’s 2005/06 seasons the only real successes wearing that number.
Nicolas Anelka, like Drogba twice, won the Golden Boot while in blue, although he wore his now-famous 39 shirt. These are the only winners for the club since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000/01.
As shown in the most obvious manner by Manchester City and Erling Haaland, goals win games and it’s a lot easier to score goals when you have a deadly striker up top.
This season was always going to be one of transition for Chelsea under Mauricio Pochettino given the unique near-overnight changes at the club and securing a top-four finish while bedding in an entirely new team appears a daunting task. It is also something that probably needs to happen to keep Boehly’s gamble under the FFP threshold.
That will be even harder if a reliable scorer isn’t sourced either internally or more likely, knowing the club’s new model, externally.
There isn’t a huge striker market this summer but who would bet against a bid for Dusan Vlahovic or Victor Osimhen in the next 10 days? Why not hit the £1bn mark, Todd? It could make all the difference this season.