Premier League 2020/21 Mid-Season Review: Chelsea

The second half of the 2020/21 Premier League is underway. The Hard Tackle runs the rule over Chelsea and what beckons them for the rest of the season.

When Frank Lampard led Chelsea to a fourth-place finish in the 2019/20 Premier League, it was seen as a major achievement given the circumstances at the club. The Blues had been hit with a transfer ban, which meant the former midfielder, who had just one year of managerial experience under his belt, was not able to add to the squad that had lost Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.

Lampard was forced to rely on the players that were left behind by Maurizio Sarri and dip into the club’s academy and he did so effectively, building a team that finished fourth in the league and enjoyed a run to the FA Cup finals. In doing so, he had successfully integrated academy products like Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham into the Chelsea first-team – a rare sight at Stamford Bridge.

Having sat on the Eden Hazard transfer money for a year, Chelsea were handed a huge advantage over other clubs in the post-pandemic transfer market. And they made hay, investing heavily on several top-quality players. Indeed, the summer saw Chelsea splash the cash to bring in Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell.

Lampard's first season at Chelsea was a success (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Lampard’s first season at Chelsea was a success (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Thiago Silva also arrived, albeit on a free transfer, while there were a couple of low-key signings in the form of Edouard Mendy and Malang Sarr, who was immediately loaned out. Equipped with some of the most talented players in the league and a big squad with great quality, big things were expected of Lampard and Chelsea as they entered the 2020/21 campaign.

The Season so far…

Chelsea kicked off the Premier League campaign with a 3-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, but a defeat to Liverpool immediately after brought them back to the ground. It was followed by another disappointing result against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion, even though they showed strong mentality to salvage a point after having gone three goals down in the first half.

Building on that, Chelsea went on a nine-game unbeaten run in the league which included emphatic wins against the likes of Burnley, Sheffield United and Leeds United along with well-earned draws against Manchester United and Tottenham. On the back of this, the Blues sat third in the table, just two points off of leaders Liverpool after Matchday 11, very much in the contention for the title.

There was a new-found defensive solidity with the axis of Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma looking resolute at the back, while Edouard Mendy was proving to be a pretty shrewd acquisition under the woodwork for Chelsea.

However, things started going south for the Blues soon after as back-to-back defeats to Everton and Wolves saw them slide down the table. A win against West Ham hinted at a turnaround, but it would only prove to be a false dawn as a run of just one win in five league games, that included defeats against Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester City, followed.

The results, coupled with the dire performances, meant the dreaded clock had started to tick on Lampard’s spell as Chelsea manager, despite his status as a club legend and his accomplishments in the season gone by. And even though the ex-Derby County boss was able to lead the team to a win against Luton Town in the FA Cup, it was not enough to save his job as Roman Abramovich wielded his famous axe again.

With the league title pretty much out of the picture at this point, Thomas Tuchel, who had been sacked by PSG just before Christmas, was appointed as the new Chelsea manager – the 15th manager in the Abramovich era. The new manager bounce may be a cliche in football, but the Blues have already seen quite a bit of improvement under the German tactician.

Having started his tenure with a dour goalless draw against Wolves, Tuchel has managed to lead Chelsea to three wins in the next three games against Burnley, Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United, in the process taking them back to the fifth place, just a point below Liverpool in fourth.

Surprise Package

Mason Mount has continued to go from strength to strength in his second season in the Premier League. Callum Hudson-Odoi, after a dodgy start to the season, has suddenly burst to life under the new manager and has taken surprisingly well to his new right wing-back role.

But, the biggest hit of the season for Chelsea has been summer signing Thiago Silva. The veteran defender joined the Blues on a free transfer after his contract with French champions PSG had run out. Given that he was 36 years old when he signed, there were plenty of detractors who dismissed him because of his age.

Indeed, not many gave him a chance, dismissing the Brazilian as ‘too old’ for the Premier League. And boy, have they been proven wrong. True, there have been a few missteps here and there, but in an overall sense, there is no denying that Silva has had a huge impact on Chelsea’s fortunes this season.

The Blues’ leaky rearguard was a major problem last season, but with Silva’s addition, things improved instantly. The veteran centre-half provided a sense of leadership and authority that had been lacking in the side while his organisational skills have been a major bonus at the back.

The major benefactor from Silva’s addition has been his defensive partner Kurt Zouma, who has found a new level to his game when playing alongside the ex-PSG man. The French international has shown marked improvement in the defensive side of his game this season and that may not have come about if he did not have the experienced hands of Silva guiding him on the field.

The Biggest Challenge

Following the sacking of Frank Lampard, it was widely reported that Chelsea wanted to replace him with a manager who could speak fluent German and in came Thomas Tuchel. One of the biggest directives for the former PSG man, when he took over the reins, was to get the best out of Chelsea’s expensive summer acquisitions in Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.

The two German internationals arrived at Stamford Bridge for a combined sum of over £120 million with a huge reputation after having enjoyed scintillating seasons in the 2019/20 campaign. But, neither Werner nor Havertz has been able to translate that form to English football and have often looked like fish out of water at Stamford Bridge.

Havertz’s season was blighted by early injuries and coronavirus while Lampard’s inability to find his best position was a major downer as well. In the case of Werner, the 24-year-old enjoyed a brief spell when he looked like he would be among the top goalscorers in the league, but the constant tinkering of positions and a dry spell in front of goal has completely sapped his confidence.

Werner has gone 14 Premier League games without a goal now while Havertz finds himself behind Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and even potentially Callum Hudson-Odoi in the pecking order for the advanced attacking roles in Tuchel’s system. Getting them both firing will be the biggest challenge for Tuchel as the duo have the quality to turn Chelsea’s season around if they hit their strides.

Tuchel is known for his tactical flexibility and adaptability, so it will be up to the 47-year-old to find a system that plays to the strengths of his compatriots to reap immediate rewards, while at the same time helping them nurture the aspects of their games that have been found wanting.

Predicted Finish in 2020/21 Season: 5th

The amount of money invested in the summer and the quality of players that Chelsea brought in put them right up in the title mix. And the early nine-game unbeaten run in the Premier League meant that things were looking very bright at one point for the west London outfit.

However, the torrid run thereafter, which also resulted in Frank Lampard getting the sack, has well and truly made them irrelevant in the title contention as they sit 11 points below leaders Manchester City, who still have a game in hand. But, it must be said that things have looked quite promising early in the Thomas Tuchel era.

Four games are too early to judge, but the three victories in the period has indicated that the team is starting to take in the new manager’s methods and philosophies. Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of work left to be done for Tuchel, with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz still nowhere near their best, leaving Mason Mount to do much of the heavy-lifting in attack.

As a result, it is hard to see them break into the top four, despite Liverpool’s recent run of results and Leicester City’s lack of quality beyond their regular starting XI.

At the same time, Chelsea should have enough to stave off any potential challenges from the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Aston Villa who are a bit too reliant on the individual qualities of one or two players, which could be their undoing, while West Ham United lack a proper goalscorer in their midst to successfully mount a top-four push.

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