Sterling can sort the Chelsea wheat from the chaff, and there’s a hell of a lot of chaff

Date published: Wednesday 29th June 2022 5:21 - Will Ford

Sterling Werner Man City Chelsea

Raheem Sterling is as sure a source of goals and assists as is it’s possible to buy, and will raise what is a very low bar at Chelsea…

Raheem Sterling looks as though he’s his way to Chelsea. Todd Boehly and Thomas Tuchel are keen, and so too is Sterling, according to reports. It’s being billed as a ‘statement signing’ – the first of what appears to be a new, if not hugely different, era of lavish transfer spending. Tuchel has a £200m kitty this summer to improve an ailing squad that won the Champions League a little over a year ago.

As things stand, Antonio Rudiger besides, Tuchel has every member of the starting XI which beat Manchester City in the 2021 final available to him. And yet, Tuchel is right, Chelsea are in need of a “rebuild”.

The future was bright 13 months ago as Kai Havertz secured Champions League glory for Chelsea. The run to the final and the way they nullified and troubled Manchester City had many of us tipping Tuchel’s side for far greater things in the season to come. The defence was outstanding and the shoots of attacking cohesion were growing.

The goal itself – as Timo Werner pulled Ruben Dias out wide with a dummy run, Mason Mount picked up the ball behind him and found Havertz running through the space Werner had created – was exactly the sort of goal we expected Chelsea to score but had seen far too infrequently. With those forwards playing in those positions, it was perfect. More of the same, please.

We’ve seen none of it since – partly through illness and injury, partly because of Romelu Lukaku, but no-one is blameless. Thomas Tuchel and the players are culpable. For whatever reason, Chelsea’s attack has been toothless, certainly in comparison to City and Liverpool. Werner, Havertz, Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all failed to kick on. That’s £250m worth of talent contributing a goal or an assist every 165 minutes between them in all competitions last season. It was nowhere near good enough.

Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic looks dejected

That’s obviously why Tuchel wants Sterling, whose return of a goal contribution every 117 minutes last season was one of his poorer outputs. His 131 goals and 95 assists have come at a rate of one every 109 minutes across his 339-game City career. Only one player has bettered that for Chelsea in the three seasons since Eden Hazard left for Real Madrid, and he’s now playing for Roma. Tammy Abraham got 12 goals and six assists in 1533 minutes in 2020/21 before he was shown the Stamford Bridge door.

Sterling may be the first of two or three forward signings this summer, with Leeds winger Raphinha also a target. Tuchel’s hope will be that the England international’s influence on the squad will be greater than the sum of his own goals and assists.

He will arrive as the main man: a ‘first name on the teamsheet’ kind of guy. And that can of course work to alienate others. Pulisic, Werner and Ziyech have all been linked with moves away this summer as a result both of their poor form and Chelsea’s interest in Sterling and Raphinha, among others.

They wouldn’t be missed, but it would also be a huge shame. All three are obviously talented, and have shown as much occasionally for Chelsea, suggesting they just need the right system or players around them to make it work. It’s perfectly possible that all three revert to being brilliant as soon as they leave. But should they stay, Sterling could be the man to help them from their respective pits of despair.

It would be fair to assume – if Tuchel uses the same formation – that Chelsea’s front three will consist of Sterling, Mount and Havertz. That’s an excellent mix of energy, pace and guile. It’s the first time in a while that the club would have ‘a front three that picks itself’, or at least close to one. Ordinarily you would say that’s bad news for the rest, but not having obvious starters and being in a situation in which they can play and retain their place if they do well hasn’t worked, so maybe this will.

His arrival could serve to spark life into them; have them sit up and take note of what a world-class forward does on and off the pitch, and attempt to match him stride for stride. They will be usurped initially, but deserve to be, and can either sulk, sit on the bench and leave, or work, realise their potential and fight for their place. Either way, it’s good news for Chelsea.

Sterling will raise the bar, and hopefully, finally, allow Tuchel and Chelsea to make a clear-cut call on what’s wheat and what’s chaff, because there seems to be a hell of a lot of the latter.

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