Do Chelsea need a striker? Might as well. Erling Haaland would make Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea the club of nightmares.
Ahead of last season, we wrote: ‘Chelsea have now built close to a foolproof squad: if Lampard can’t win the title with them, someone else will.’
We were wrong. The squad remained flawed, Hakim Ziyech never got going, Kai Havertz eventually did and Timo Werner left his goalscoring boots back in Leipzig. There were suggestions that Chelsea could have won the title had Thomas Tuchel been at the helm from the start of the season, but in reality one of the biggest shortcomings under Frank Lampard remained when the German replaced him: they missed far too many chances.
The xG justice table had Chelsea in a comfortable second place, seven points shy of Manchester City and eight clear of Liverpool in third. All four of their most-used forwards – Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Havertz and Werner – ended the season with a negative Goals minus Expected Goals score, with Werner the worst in the Premier League on -5.7 after +5.6 for Leipzig the season before. To put that in some perspective, Manchester City had six forwards with a positive score.
Now, we (I) am at risk of U-turning, flip-flopping and generally being a bit of a d*ck, having been bemused by Chelsea’s courting of a striker all the way back in March of this very same year. But that point still stands – it may not be necessary and could be detrimental to the progress of certain players in the squad.
But this is Chelsea, where things are fixed before we know if they’re broken beyond repair. Managers are fired and players cast aside in the ceaseless hunt for trophies. If anything, it’s Chelsea doing the breaking that’s made them the most successful English club of the last two decades. Why get out the super glue when you have the resources and ambition to bin the cracked crockery and head for John Lewis?
Tuchel is well aware of this reality and warned his strikers back in early April of his “expectations”.
“You have to face the expectations that everybody has from you when you play as an offensive guy for Chelsea because, honestly, when you play as a defender for Chelsea everybody expects you to deliver on point and to deliver in every match and to be able to defend in every match, so this is what we expect from our strikers. In the summer we will think further and think together with the club about what solutions are the best solutions for us.”
For Tuchel, it’s a case of me or them. If he doesn’t build a squad to win the title, he will be the one to lose his job. There’s no space for goodwill or loyalty at Stamford Bridge: eat or be eaten.
And the hungry should turn to the insatiable, to the man who smells the blood of Englishmen, who will grind their bones to make his bread.
Chelsea want him, he wants Chelsea and if Borussia Dortmund can be tempted, it’s a no-brainer. Erling Haaland is among maybe four or five strikers in world football who are a guaranteed source of goals. He’s scored 85 in 81 games in his last two seasons for RB Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund. He’s terrifying and would make an already scary Chelsea the club of nightmares in England and Europe next season. His arrival would turn the Premier League title contenders into outright favourites.
Tuchel’s two previous jobs have seen him work with and get the best out of similarly prolific forwards. Kylian Mbappe scored 69 goals in 80 games, Neymar notched 42 in 55 and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed 79 in 95 under the German. Haaland’s arrival would require a change of tactics: if Havertz is a false nine, Haaland is about as nine as it’s possible to be. He is nine to at least seven decimal places. But to question Tuchel’s ability to shift tactics would be madness. He completely changed the system upon his arrival to take the edge off Chelsea’s flaws and bring the positives to the fore. Imagining what he can do without the major Chelsea problem should be a harrowing prospect for his title rivals.
The authority he has built in such a short time at Chelsea is crucial ahead of this summer of business. While Lampard was vital in luring the top young talent to the club last summer, the signings – brilliant though they were thought to be and could still be – had a hint of Chelsea circa 2004-2006 about them. Whether due to a lack of sway on Lampard’s part or a lack of proper due care and attention from Lampard himself, it quickly became apparent that there hadn’t been a great deal of thought as to how these new players would all fit together.
You don’t get that sense with Tuchel. He knows exactly what and who he wants and now has the clout – with a Champions League trophy secured – to tell the club what’s what. He’s not in charge (no Chelsea manager ever is) but he’s got a voice the bosses will now hear. A voice that could soon be accompanied by the heavy footsteps of another…
Fee-fi-fo-fum… here comes Haaland.