It’s no fun being a forward at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, and simply buying new ones won’t cut it.
A report on Wednesday claimed Tuchel wanted to ‘rip up’ Chelsea’s forward line and ‘start again’. True or not, it follows the theme of the manager’s documented frustration with his misfiring forwards.
Few Chelsea games went by last season, or in the six months before, where Tuchel didn’t have a gripe over missed chances, a lack of fluency or some other attacking grievance, the basis of which, quite simply, was his side not scoring enough goals.
The departed Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who have all been heavily linked with a move away this summer, scored 15 Premier League goals between them last season, at a rate of one every 324 minutes, with their combined eight assists coming every 607 minutes.
It’s not all about goals and assists, but their performances have also failed to offer any great mitigation.
You will see Chelsea fans on social media backing some or all of these players to the hilt, either through a genuine expectation that they will come good, or because they can’t bare the thought of their club making such transfer blunders.
Werner has already left for half what they paid for him two years ago, and they won’t get close to their outlay on Ziyech or Pulisic should they also exit this summer.
After Werner had sealed his return to RB Leipzig he told the Chelsea fans: “I felt so much love and support throughout the last two years and I will never forget how you guys stood behind me in good and in challenging times!”
He was right to thank the fans, whose support of him was inexplicable at times, as the striker himself has admitted. It even appeared to grow in the wake of an open training session just under a year ago in which one numpty (who in fairness turned out to be a pretty perceptive numpty) was handed a microphone and implored the Chelsea board to “get Werner out the club”.
The vast majority of the Chelsea faithful took the side of a fellow fan who confronted the brazen fool that day. By proxy, Werner himself was backed.
The German will have enjoyed the cheers more than the groans he often deserved, but was also probably a little embarrassed at what must have felt like chants of pity a lot of the time.
And the love spreads beyond Werner. You will struggle to find a Chelsea supporter who doesn’t think one or more of these players deserves more game time. I’m a Chelsea fan and think Ziyech’s been hard done by, for example.
We’re all desperate for at least one of them to prosper – and Ziyech happens to be my chosen hill to die on – but you could make an argument for any of them. Which means you could just as easily not bother, as they’ve all been much of a muchness.
They’re all ‘good footballers’ who, for whatever reason – whether it’s the pace of the Premier League, living away from home, their physical or mental health – haven’t thrived at Stamford Bridge.
The problem for Tuchel and Chelsea is that it’s most likely to be for the same reason, which will also be an issue for the players brought in to replace them.
Wilfried Zaha and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are the players linked and seem to be good options. Tuchel has previous with Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund and the Gabon international rediscovered his goalscoring touch having been jettisoned by Arsenal in January. Zaha has reached double figures for goals in three of his last four Premier League seasons for Crystal Palace and is a genuine gamechanger, the likes of which Chelsea haven’t had since Eden Hazard left.
But it feels unlikely that they, or any forward addition, would make a significant difference with the formation as it is. Would Luis Diaz or Dejan Kulusevski have had the same impact at Chelsea had they arrived in January? Again, it’s doubtful.
The front three in Tuchel’s 3-4-3 seem weirdly superfluous when Chelsea have the ball. They watch as it gets passed between the centre-backs and central midfielders behind them as they’re cramped for room by their own wing-backs and their runs in behind are ignored. They pressurise the opposition, win the ball back for their team, then see it recycled back to the defenders and the process starts again.
If it’s frustrating for us watching, imagine how it is for them. It really doesn’t look like much fun being a forward at Chelsea, certainly compared to playing for Manchester City or Liverpool, even Tottenham or Arsenal.
Tuchel joked about no-one wanting to take on the No.9 shirt vacated by Romelu Lukaku, citing a “curse” dating back to the days of Fernando Torres. But superstitions aside, the Chelsea boss is faced with the very real problem of his team, as it’s currently set up, being a far from attractive proposition for the sort of players he wants to sign: those who are used to either creating or scoring plenty of goals.
Ask the goalkeeper, defenders, wing-backs and midfielders what they think of Tuchel and they will likely be glowing in their praise. His system means they are the heroes of Stamford Bridge, winning games and plaudits.
Those useless forwards, on the other hand, fail to hit barn doors. Should a potential new attacking signing ask a Chelsea forward about a move to the club, they may well be told to steer clear.
Although the 3-4-3 returned on the opening day win over Everton, Tuchel has hinted at moving to a back four this season in the hope of improving their attacking output. And he needs to, because while Zaha and Aubameyang may be prove to be better options than Werner et al. without a change, they too will have to endure the pitying choruses of the Chelsea fans if they’re forced into the current system, which renders them inert and inconsequential.